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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Australia is burning: is this a portent of what is to come?

As our hearts go out to the people of Australia, as they battle with unprecedented and devastating fires across the country, with lives lost, as well as homes and a billion of their unique marsupial and other wildlife species being burnt to death, I have to ask the question:

Is this one of the first of many such events that we are going to witness over the next decades?  Is this going to be the face of the effects of climate change in the future?  Are we going to witness even more harrowing events and deaths across the world?

AustralianBushfire

koala

Photographs from Australia during the fires in recent weeks

wombat after fire

Animals that survive the fires, like this wombat pictured in New South Wales, will struggle to find food and shelter

How much more dreadful is it going to become globally, as we see multiple fires, floods, hurricanes, monsoons, high temperatures, coastal erosion and mass loss of species? Ecologists are already saying that they fear two rare species (found only on Kangaroo Island, to the south of Australia), may have been wiped out in the recent fires.  These include a small mouse-like marsupial, called a dunnart, and glossy black cockatoos. See:

https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/empowering-the-planet/australia-wildfires-entire-species-may-have-been-wiped-out-by-inferno-conservationists-say/ar-BBYDoQk?ocid=spartandhp

dunnart2

The endangered marsupial: Kangaroo Island Dunnart

See also: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/jan/04/ecologists-warn-silent-death-australia-bushfires-endangered-species-extinction

An article in Nature, by an Australian ecologist Michael Clarke, describes the aftermath of such terrible fires.  He says,

“It is deathly silent when you go into a forest after a fire. Apart from the ‘undertakers’ — the carrion eaters like currawongs, ravens and shrike-thrushes — picking off the dead bodies, there’s nothing much left in the forest. It’s a chilling experience.

For survivors, it’s a perilous existence in the months that follow. Any animal that manages to make it through the fire uninjured faces three major challenges. One is finding shelter from climatic extremes — places they can hide from bad weather, like a hollow tree or a hole in the ground. The second is the risk of starvation. And third, they’ve got to avoid predators like feral cats and foxes. They’re exposed; there’s nowhere to hide in a barren landscape.

Even if an animal makes it to an unburnt patch, the density of organisms trying to eke out a living will be way beyond the area’s carrying capacity. After fires in 2007, one unburnt patch I visited in the Mallee [a region in the far north of Victoria] was literally crawling with birds, all chasing one another, trying to work out who owned the last little bit of turf. It was clearly insufficient to sustain them all.

Animals like koalas that live above ground in small, isolated populations and that have a limited capacity to flee or discover unburnt patches of forest are in all sorts of trouble. During past fires, we’ve seen some really surprising creative behaviours, like lyrebirds and wallabies going down wombat burrows to escape fire. But a large majority of animals are simply incinerated. Even really big, fast-flying birds like falcons and crimson rosellas can succumb to fire.

Some animals are more resilient to fire than others. The best adapted are those that can get underground. Termite colonies happily hum along underneath these all-consuming fires. Burrow-dwelling lizards are similar.”

See: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00043-2

michaelClarke

Professor Michael Clarke



 

Australia is not alone in facing wildfires. In 2018, a similar thing happened in California.  The 2018 wildfire season was the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season ever recorded in California, with a total of 8,527 fires burning an area of 1,893,913 acres (766,439 ha), the largest area of burned acreage recorded in a fire season, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) and the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), as of December 21. Through to the end of August 2018, Cal Fire alone spent $432 million on operations. As of May 2019, insurance claims related to this fire season had reached $12 billion, most related to the Camp Fire, in Butte County (see Wikipedia). And wildfires happened in Europe too.

In India, from June to September 2019, the country received the highest amount of monsoonal rain in the past 25 years. According to the India Meteorological Department, those rains are not expected to retreat until at least October 10th, which would be the latest withdrawal of the monsoon in the country’s recorded history.

indian monsoon floods

2019 monsoon flooding in India

According to Wikepedia, climate change in China is having major effects on the economy, society and the environment. The energy structure and human activities caused global warming and climate change, and China suffered from negative effects of global warming in agriculture, forestry and water resources.

Beijing-Smog

Photograph taken in Beijing, China, where smog pollution reaches 24 times the WHO recommended safe level and children are kept from attending school as a result.

I have chosen to mention these three countries – Australia, India and China – because they were exempted from the UN Kyoto Protocol agreement, because at that time, they pleaded that they were only just beginning to industrialise and needed to be given a chance to compete with industrialised countries. This chance was given and, now, they have become amongst the highest polluting countries in the world, with China in the lead, despite its intentions to tackle climate change.  Ironic, isn’t it?

It’s easy to criticise with hindsight but I believe the UNFCCC should have had the confidence to stand firm over the Kyoto Protocol.  Because of this, many countries (including the USA – another high polluter) did not ratify it.

I came across an interesting graph a few months ago, which shows that carbon emissions have continued to climb, despite UN efforts and agreements: Rio, Kyoto and Paris and beyond.  The dates of these initiatives is marked on an ever-upwardly climbing graph of global carbon emissions.

cemissionsgraph

As I’ve watched the events of this summer unfolding, I’ve found myself wondering whether the Earth system has now breached a tipping point, an irreversible shift in the stability of the planetary system.

There may now be so much heat trapped in the system that we may have already triggered a domino effect that could unleash a cascade of abrupt changes that will continue to play out in the years and decades to come.

Rapid climate change has the potential to reconfigure life on the planet as we know it.

 

However, I believe that global warming and climate change will have multiple effects across the world; some of it will be related to food scarcity but the other effects will be more random: fires, floods, hurricanes, heat stroke, coastal erosion and the loss of islands, as well as land in low-lying countries. And, of course, the disappearance of many iconic species of wildlife. And, as a Biologist and an animal lover, I feel enormous grief over this devastating loss – and I know that I am not the only one.

Unless huge co-operative efforts are made to limit the burning of fossil fuels, the future looks bleak for all of us, including some of the wonderful and unique species with whom we share this planet. If we are seeing these effects with just 1 degree of global warming, what will it be like at 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees or even higher?  Three degrees and above are predicted if carbon emissions do not start to fall in the very near future.



 


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How a Green New Deal will benefit us all

Taken from the Labour Party’s manifesto and written by Paul Halas, with acknowledgements also to:

https://watershed2015.wordpress.com/2019/10/18/how-a-green-new-deal-will-benefit-us-all-paul-halas/


There’s been a lot of excitement about Labour’s Green New Deal, but what does it involve and how will it affect us?

Burning up carbon deposits – in the form of oil, coal and gas – which were laid down over hundreds of millions of years, is pushing us to the brink of extinction. To avoid this we need to take some pretty drastic action and we’ll have to be prepared for major changes in the way we live, work, travel and even eat.

As part of its Green New Deal, Labour has undertaken to make the UK carbon neutral by 2030. This is how –

Some of the biggest changes will have to take place at the top, starting with the major international corporations – which carry the biggest responsibility for carbon emissions. They produce and sell both the fossil fuels and the machines and gadgets that cause climate change. By increasing tax on products and services that release more carbon, and reducing it on ones that cause less damage, big business can be made to do the right thing.

Greener energy will be a priority. Renewable energy sources now account for half our electricity, but to reach carbon neutrality by 2030 green energy must still be increased vastly. Labour plans to double offshore wind-powered generation, and will encourage local energy production – whether it’s from sun, wind or water, or a combination of them.

Transport and travel are major contributors to climate change. The Green New Deal will encourage greener ways of travelling, more sustainable technologies and better ways of making use of the resources we have. While they’re only a partial solution, the development and ownership of cars running on electricity from renewable sources will be helped, public transport will be improved and bus and rail networks widened. In the areas still not well served by public transport, vehicle-sharing schemes will be created.

Energy saving begins at home, and the Green New Deal proposes both a massive scheme of building new, energy-efficient homes and finding ways of improving existing buildings. There will be a major drive to insulate homes better, and the Conservatives’ tax increases on solar heating will be reversed.

Over time we’ll have to adapt our eating habits. Clearly, flying in foodstuffs from the four corners of the globe produces an unacceptable carbon footprint; equally, industrial-scale meat production releases an incredible amount of methane, another greenhouse gas. Producing more of our food closer to home will reduce our carbon output and help our economy, and a more plant-based diet will be less wasteful and in the end healthier.

Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. Much of our economy depends on technology and services that are no longer sustainable and will have no place in our greener future. Old systems will have to go as new technologies are developed. This will inevitably mean that some jobs disappear, but an expanding green economy will mean that more and better jobs will be created, and training will be provided for those who fill them. The green technological revolution will be funded by a £250 billion national investment scheme.

As well as a greener future, Labour’s Green New Deal aims to bring about a more equal future too. The excesses of the super-rich corporations will be curbed; tax avoidance will at last be tackled. The multimillionaire class have taken more and more, while the rest of us – the many – have been left with less and less. One way to tackle the problem is through taxation, and another is through localism – also known as Community Wealth Building. Many communities throughout the world are already benefiting from these schemes, and an increasing number of towns and cities in the UK are adopting them.

The idea is that communities and councils always give priority to local suppliers and services. For instance when building a new school, or hospital, or sports complex, etc, local firms will always be preferred to the big players to carry out the work. The same goes for services. Under the Labour Green New Deal local energy suppliers will be encouraged, especially if they are publicly-owned, or run by people’s co-operatives. Local credit unions will be created, house-building schemes, housing associations, food co-operatives – all manner of local enterprises – all creating fairly-paid, unionised jobs. That way money earned in the locality stays in the locality and benefits local people. It cuts down our carbon output by reducing transport of both people and goods, and encourages green technologies. It also creates a greater degree of equality and reduces our dependence on the big corporations. What’s not to like?

To prevent catastrophic climate change we’re all going to have to adapt to major changes. But they needn’t be daunting. We’re not going to go back to a pre-industrial age. We won’t have to cycle everywhere unless we want to, and we won’t have to live on a diet of turnips and pottage.

 

Many of the changes will be beneficial and will bring about a more equitable and contented society. They should be embraced.

These policies were mentioned in Jeremy Corbyn’s address to the 2019 Labour Party Conference and the Campaign against Climate Change Trade Union Group is campaigning on the Green New Deal as part of the Campaign against Climate Change which set up the One Million Climate Jobs campaign.



 


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Hundreds of temperature records beaten over the summer of 2019

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-49753680?intlink_from_url=https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science_and_environment&link_location=live-reporting-story

Story on BBC website by

Almost 400 all-time high temperatures were set in the northern hemisphere over the summer, according to an analysis of temperature records.  The records were broken in 29 countries for the period from 1 May to 30 August 2019.

A third of the all-time high temperatures were in Germany, followed by France and the Netherlands.

France

People cooling off during the heatwave in France

 

The analysis was carried out by the California-based climate institute Berkeley Earth.

Over the summer, there were 1,200 instances of places in the northern hemisphere being the hottest they’d ever been in a given month.  The data included measurements from weather stations in the northern hemisphere that had at least 40 years of observations. Some of this data has not yet been subjected to formal review by weather agencies. These reviews, to check for problems that might have produced false readings, sometimes cause a small fraction of the records to be discounted.

European heatwaves

Heatwaves in Europe in June and July sent temperatures soaring, smashing a number of local and national records.

France set an all-time high-temperature of 46C, while the UK, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands also reported new highs.

This summer was notable for the very large number of all-time temperature records set in Europe, according to Dr Robert Rohde, Lead Scientist at Berkeley Earth.

“Some places in Europe have histories of weather observations going back more than 150 years, and yet still saw new all-time record highs,” he told the BBC.

The extent of the hot spells on the continent is clearly visible when looking at a breakdown of when the most temperature records were broken. In late July, all-time temperature records were set in a number of European countries including the UK.

_109163273_records_by_date_v2-nc

Elsewhere, more than 30 all-time records were broken in the US, according to the Berkeley Earth data. In Japan, where 11 people who died as a result of the summer heatwave, 10 all-time temperature record highs were set.

The summer saw 396 all-time high temperatures in total.

Most all-time temperature records in measuring stations covered by the data were broken in 2010, followed by 2003.

The increasing number of record high temperatures are a part of the long-term trend of global warming, said Dr Rohde.

“As the Earth warms, it has become easier for weather stations to set new all-time records. In the past, we would usually only see about 2% of weather stations recording a new record high in any given year,” he explained.

“But, recently, we sometimes see years, like 2019, with 5% or more of the weather stations recording a new all-time record high.”

Further data and charts can be found on the BBC website cited at the beginning of this article.



This chart of global weather hot spots from Jan-June 2019 was produced by Climate Central:

2019tmps



Europe was not the only place to experience extremely hot weather during the year.  The following came from Vietnam:

vietnam



And another bar chart from NASA showing increasing temperatures over the last century:

temperature-means-yearly-NASA-3


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French farmers affected by climate change and droughts

A report in the Financial Times includes stories from French farmers in the Loire valley who are being put out of business by climate change.  This summer’s heatwave has been devastating to them.

https://www.ft.com/content/164e75da-b9d3-11e9-96bd-8e884d3ea203?accessToken=zwAAAWyzic-okc8WTnXaudMR6dOWvY6ITT6iAw.MEUCIQCm2mJLhtC-gCdDCfi1hfeh4SFFbMbvJXWn7nnpHtLWFgIgMmQVWAnov1Mq0KqmXSkAJSi6DklRl-tmVNHeqvjwI6E&sharetype=gift?token=1f943f7b-8e69-4e5c-9dda-53bb41e83b9f

One of the farmers, Clément Traineau, described the stunted growth of corn, due to the drought, which means that his harvest will be only half of what it should be, so that there will not be enough to feed his cattle during the winter. Beef prices have also been stagnant due to a number of factors, not the least of which is the latest IPCC report calling on people to eat less meat.  One farmer has been forced to sell a quarter of his cows to make ends meet.

Frenchcattle

Intense storms on August 6th brought some relief to the drought but they also caused flooding and mudslides.

Farmers in the Loire valley are now trying to diversify their income, investing in wind farms and solar panels (on top of the cow sheds).  They are also generating power by burning methane from cow dung.

M. Traineau is quoted as saying:
“We farmers are in the front line of climate change as victims, and — in the media — as the guilty ones for producing meat. But people forget we can also be a means of fighting global warming. Meadows and pastures have a substantial capacity for storing carbon.”



 


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The Truth about Heatwaves: 3

In three previous blogs, I have discussed heatwaves and their effects on land, over the oceans and their effects on human survivability.

In this (4th) blog, I am going to provide more data linking heatwaves in the UK with a spike in the number of deaths, especially in the elderly, the young and those with specific health issues – vulnerable groups.

After the 2018 heatwave, The Guardian, published an analysis of this, based on official statistics; it can be seen at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/aug/03/deaths-rose-650-above-average-during-uk-heatwave-with-older-people-most-at-risk

The following includes extracts from The Guardian article:


Nearly 700 more deaths than average were recorded during the 15-day peak of the heatwave in June and July 2018 in England and Wales.

The height of the heatwave was from 25 June to 9 July, according to the Met Office, a run of 15 consecutive days with temperatures above 28C. The deaths registered during the weeks covering this period were 663 higher than the average for the same weeks over the previous five years, a Guardian analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics shows.

beachJuly 2018

ONS analysis for previous years indicate hundreds of additional deaths were associated with brief periods of heatwave conditions in July 2016 and June 2017. The full toll of the 2018 heatwave could reach 1,000, according to one prediction.

“While working in A&E this summer, I saw patients presenting with heatstroke and other conditions that were probably exacerbated by the hot weather, and this obviously places an additional strain on our already struggling health services,” she said.

Dehydration can lead to many issues, from dizziness and falls, to an increased risk of infections, heart attacks and strokes. The 2018 heatwave showed that hospitals and care homes must be made ready to cope with high temperatures.



Another article, published by the London School of Economics and Political Science last year, stated that people are dying of ignorance:

Hundreds are dying from ignorance of rising heatwave risks

The article states that many of these deaths could have been prevented if Government Departments and agencies had listened to the advice of experts and improved the shockingly poor flow of information to the public about the rising risk of heatwaves due to climate change.

There is evidence that many people perish each summer in the UK because they do not understand that the frequency of heatwave conditions are increasing.

The full death toll from summer 2018’s hot weather will not be known for a some months, but is likely to exceed 1000 based on what has happened in previous years.

It is a public health emergency about which nobody is talking. If more than 1000 people were killed in flooding, there would rightly be an outcry, particularly if many of the deaths could have been avoided.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine identified older people as being particularly vulnerable but also concluded that more people suffer in Greater London, South-East and East England. These are the hottest parts of the UK, and have been experiencing significant amounts of warming over the past few decades.

An assessment in 2014 found statistically significant increases in daily maximum, minimum and mean air temperatures between 1910 and 2011, with “the rate of change increasing from the north and west to the south and east”.

Public Health England published in 2015 an annual heatwave plan (PDF) and jointly operates, with the Met Office, the ‘Heat-Health Watch’ which issues warnings ahead of heatwave conditions occurring. However, the Met Office fails frequently to tell the public that climate change is increasing the risk of heatwaves in the UK.


 


Another report about the UK heatwave in 2019 had similar findings. It was from the Office for National Statistics (ONS):

https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/causesofdeath/articles/dosummerheatwavesleadtoanincreaseindeaths/2019-10-07

The number of deaths spiked on the hottest day of the summer, provisional official data shows.

There were 1,473 deaths on July 25 registered in England and Wales, rising from about 1,100-1,200 deaths per day around the same time, according to figures from the ONS.

July 25 saw temperatures reach 38.7C in Cambridge, breaking the record for the highest temperature ever recorded in the UK.

The ONS was looking at whether “killer heatwave” news headlines are backed up by the data in a release called ‘Do summer heatwaves lead to an increase in deaths?’

The stats body cautioned that the May to August 2019 data is “highly provisional” due to the amount of time it can take for deaths to be registered, meaning the recorded number of deaths per day is likely to increase as more deaths are registered.

HEALTH Heatwave

While comparisons with previous years cannot yet be made using the recent summer’s data, the statisticians compared the number of deaths per day in summer 2018 with the five-year average (2013-18).

The ONS said: “The comparatively high number of deaths occur mainly on days that are defined as heatwaves by Public Health England (PHE) in their deaths relating to heatwaves report.”

These spikes tended to be followed by periods of lower-than-average deaths, the ONS said.

The report went on: “This means that at a daily level, extreme heat seems to have an impact on the number of deaths, but across the summer period as a whole the number of deaths is similar to previous years.

“This could be because the most vulnerable people, for example, those with pre-existing respiratory or cerebrovascular diseases are more susceptible to death during heatwaves.”

Even when taking into account the heatwaves, the effects of winter on mortality are consistently greater than summer, the report added.



Another Public Health England (PHE) report analysed the number of death during the 2016 heatwave.  It found an excess of 908 deaths during the heatwave periods, when the Met Office had issued heatwave alerts.  See:

Public Health England, “PHE Heatwave Mortality Monitoring: Summer 2016”, June 2018. Available: https://assets.publishing.service.
gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/714933/PHE_heatwave_mortality_monitoring_report_2016.pdf

The executive summary to the document is as follows:

Executive summary:

“Heatwaves are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity as a result of climate change. The health impacts of these events can be significant, particularly for vulnerable populations when excess mortality can occur. England experienced several heatwaves in the summer 2016. This report summarises the excess deaths observed throughout the heatwaves of summer 2016.

The summer of 2016 saw 3 Level 3 heatwave alerts issued by the Met Office. Excess
daily mortality was estimated using baseline death registration data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The first heatwave occurred from 18 July to 22 July 2016, where there were an estimated 612 excess deaths observed above baseline in the 65+ year olds. The second heatwave occurred between 22 August to 26 August 2016, where there were an estimated 296 excess deaths observed above baseline amongst 65+ year olds. The third and final heatwave of the summer 2016 occurred between 12 September and 17 September 2016, where there were no significant excess deaths observed. This resulted in a total estimate of 908 excess deaths over the summer 2016
period.”

The Conclusion to the report is as follows:

Conclusions
England observed 3 heatwave periods in 2016, with significant excess mortality impact in the >65 year olds decreasing in size and geographical extent with each heatwave across the summer. No significant impact was seen in the <65 year olds and the impact on mortality of 908 excess deaths was less than seen in 2006 (2,323 deaths) and 2003 (2,234 deaths). The UK has had a heatwave plan since 2004, the importance of which continues to be highlighted year on year.”



 


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The G20 summit, the European heatwave and the lack of international progress on climate change

A heatwave spread across Europe this last week; thermometers soared past 40C as temperatures broke new records. Schools close to Paris were forced to close; Germany introduced speed restrictions on its autobahns; and a Spanish meteorologist tweeted a map of the country’s weather forecast with the caption: “Hell is coming.”

_european heatwave2019

Temperatures are also running high in the climate change debate ahead of the G20 meeting in Osaka. Japan is set to omit references to “global warming” and “decarbonisation” from a G20 communiqué in a bid to please the US. This comes just days after four central European states — Estonia, Czech Republic, Poland and Bulgaria — stopped the EU from committing to a 2050 net zero carbon emissions target last week.

G20summit2019

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, is trying to prevent the publication of  the IPCC Report. Last week Republican senators in Oregon fled the state to block the passage of a landmark bill that would commit the state, like neighbouring California, to ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. School strikes by teenagers and direct action, such as that by Extinction Rebellion, who demand governments “tell the truth”, have become a regular occurrence in recent months.  Yet, international progress on fighting climate change is in danger of stalling.  Bold and decisive leadership is needed if temperatures are to be prevented from rising to catastrophic levels. Countries that depend on fossil fuels will ultimately face a choice between foot-dragging or being left behind by technological progress. Renewables are often beating traditional sources on cost as well as on carbon emissions. Blocking international agreements will not keep coal viable.

highlights-of-the-ipcc-fifth-assessment-report-1-638

Emmanuel Macron, France’s president, is rightly making a stand. He has pledged to refuse to sign any G20 communiqué that leaves out a reference to the 2015 Paris agreement on combating climate change.

Bottom-up pressure seems to be working where top-down international conferences stumble. Green parties were big gainers in last months’ European Parliament elections. France and Britain are pushing ahead on their own with net zero targets; Bavaria, a German state not usually known for its radicalism, is going further than the national government to end the use of coal. In the US, city mayors and state governments are stepping in to compensate for the lack of federal government action. Britain, France and California are all relatively large economies but ultimately tackling climate change will depend on action by the largest emitters — China, the US, India and the EU.

This makes global co-operation essential, despite some countries blocking progress since the Paris accord. Governments will need to step up just to meet the Paris targets in coming years. It means being honest with companies, workers and taxpayers about the costs. Spain’s programme to phase out coal, which involved early retirement for miners and payments to coal-dependent regions, provides one model for a so-called “just transition” which spreads costs fairly. Frustrating international agreements can do nothing but delay the inevitable.

The reality of climate change will catch up with politicians. That may be in the form of angry voters on the streets, or of extreme weather that makes cities uninhabitable and crops fail. As fugitive Oregon senators and G20 leaders in Osaka will eventually find, running away is not an option.

See also:  https://on.ft.com/2KJQuB4



 


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Devinder Sharma writes about droughts in India

This is taken from a piece written by Devinder for Ground Reality on 13th June 2019:

Drought getting more pronounced in India, while cities in drought affected regions remain like an oasis.

The struggle for getting water
pic courtesy Livemint
As drought looms large in many parts of the country, more than 50,000 farmers from Ahmednagar district in Maharashtra have moved to nearly 500 makeshift cattle camps that the district administrated has built across eight talukas. “This has been our home since March this year. Problems galore at these cattle camps but we have little choice,” Dagru, a farmer told the media. They cook their meals at the camp and during the day go out looking for job.
At present, there are 1,501 cattle camps across Maharashtra.
As parts of Maharashtra faces its worst drought since 1972, another news report warns of fodder supplies running out for an estimated 10 lakh cattle housed in these camps. While the state government is thinking of setting up more cattle camps, this time for sheep and goats as well, I shudder to think how the farming families are surviving in these cattle camps. And yet I marvel the sensitivity and compassion some well know economic writers have demonstrated by saying there is no visible farm crisis !
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devender Fadnavis has allocated Rs 1,300-crore for these cattle camps. With the prices of cattle feed soaring, the government has raised the daily allowance for cattle contractors to Rs 100 per cattle per day and Rs 50 for each calf. The cattle are milked twice daily, but over the weeks the milk yield is coming down. Obviously, with the fodder supplies getting scarce in a worsening drought situation is beginning to take its toll. Water is supplied regularly by tankers.
Writing in The Wire, journalist Sukanya Shantha brings out the pain and agony that hapless families, including women who carry their children along, are undergoing: “What can we do, anyway? We would also like for our children to continue going to school but there is no one to feed them in the village right now,” Lalitabai Jhimmal was quoted. Her three children, in Classes VII, V and III, have been squatting at the camp along with her, intermittently attending their school. “There is no water in the village. Here, at least, we have water to drink,” says the eldest one.
With the houses locked, many nearby villages have become empty as the villagers have moved along with their cattle to the cattle camps. This is despite the fact Maharashtra had vowed to become drought free by 2019.  Instead, with 72 per cent Maharashtra hit by drought, and approximately 43.4 per cent of the country reeling under drought, an estimated 600 million people have been hit hard by an acute water crisis in the country. As crop land become parched, most of the land lying fallow, crops wither and fail, the soaring temperature has made life difficult in the drought-affected villages.
But the biggest tragedy is the appalling disconnect that such a devastating drought has with the city dwellers. People living in Ahmednagar in Maharashtra, which has 500 cattle camps in the district, are by and large oblivious of the severity of the drought only a few kilometres outside the city premises. Life goes on as usual, as if everything is normal in the rest of the district. Not only in Ahmednagar, every time I go to Bangalore I have never even remotely felt that people in the city even realise that Karnataka too has been reeling under a severe drought. In 2017, a severe drought prevailed, and as many as 139 of the 176 taluks were declared drought hit. And this year too, nearly 82 per cent of Karnataka is reeling under a drought. But go to Bangalore, you will not even get a hint of a terrible human suffering that continues to be inflicted year after year. Karnataka has suffered drought for 12 out of the past 18 years. But life in Bangalore has never been affected.
Such is the disconnect that life in any mega city does not even give an inkling of a severe drought prevailing just 10 kms away. I find it too strange. After all, have you ever pondered why is it that while drought hits the region as a whole it is only people living in the villages who bear the brunt? Why is that drought rarely, if at all, strikes the cities and towns? For instance, I travel to Bangalore very often, at least four times a year, and never have I returned with a feel of an acute water-stress that the people are faced with.
But how long will the cities continue to be like an oasis in an otherwise dry and parched landscape? That’s a big question. But a recent report by Niti Aayog warns that 21 cities – including the four metropolis Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of ground water by 2020, just a year away. Since ground water provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 100 million people are expected to be hit. I am not sure whether water availability will be down to a trickle in these cities, but for sure the emphasis will shift to farmers advising them not to waste water.
Farmers have always been a soft target. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire blame shifts to farmers. In Punjab, free power and water guzzling crop like paddy have always been the target. They are now being advised to go in for drip irrigation for which the government is being asked to provide 80 per cent subsidy. But a fact no one wants to acknowledge is that the consumption of water in the cities is no less a culprit. At a price of about 4 paise a kg, water supply is almost free for the urban consumers. While the farmers are being asked to go in for drip irrigation to reduce water wastage when was the last time you heard urban consumers being asked to do away with showers in their bathroom?

Every time someone uses the shower for about eight minutes roughly 65 litres of water goes down the drain. A typical bathtub, of the size 30 inches wide and 60 inches long, can contain 300 litres of water. If a luxury hotel has on an average 100 rooms, imagine 30,000 litres of water being drained simply for bathing every day. This is not fair. We can’t force the poor farmers alone to make sacrifices while we allow the rich to bathe in luxury.

 



And another piece in The Tribune by Devinder Sharma:

https://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/india-is-drying-up-fast/789376.html

India is drying up, fast

Devinder Sharma

Devinder Sharma, Food and Agriculture Specialist

Traditional water bodies and harvesting systems need urgent revival

“Congratulations to all… we have achieved 50 degree temperature this year. Let’s cut more trees to achieve 60 degrees the next year,’ a sarcastic tweet the other day came as a jolt. It was, however, hard to tell whether the quiet sarcasm was lost on a majority of the readers who are following Twitter or had made more and more people sit up and think.

Whatever had been the impact, the fact remains that while 2018 was the fourth hottest year on record in the past 140 years since the world began to keep a track on temperatures, NASA expects 2019 to be still hotter. The heat is therefore on. In India, a 22 per cent deficit has been recorded in pre-monsoon showers in the months of March, April and May — the second lowest in the past 65 years — and with monsoons delayed by a fortnight or so, daily temperatures have been sizzling. Churu in Rajasthan has already crossed 50°C thrice this season, and even Delhi burnt at an all-time high of 48°C.

With nearly 43 per cent of the country engulfed in a drought, an estimated 600 million people are reeling under its fury. With temperatures soaring, water sources going dry, parched lands staring as far as one can see, ‘hundreds of villages have been evacuated as historic drought forces families to abandon their homes in search of water’, reports The Guardian. In Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, such is the wrath of a continuing drought that over 50,000 farmers have shifted to 500 camps meant for cattle. There are 1,501 cattle camps in Maharashtra, where 72 per cent of the area is faced with a drought. Reports say village after village around the capital city of Mumbai has been deserted. More than 88 per cent of Karnataka is somehow surviving under a severe drought. With 156 of the 176 talukas declared drought hit, Karnataka has faced 12 years of drought in the past 18 years. 

Karnataka’s economic survey for 2018-19 projects a growth rate of minus 4.8 per cent in agriculture.  Therefore, while drought has taken a heavy toll on standing crops and also crippled the farming-led economic activity, not only in Karnataka, but also in nearly half the country, adequate attention is finally coming to the declining groundwater levels. With the conundrums of water conflicts between states, between communities within a state, and as well as individuals standing in queues increasing over the years, policy makers are now realising the importance of conservation. Already the alarm has been raised with a recent report by Niti Aayog warning that 21 cities — including the four metropolises — Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Delhi — will run out of groundwater by 2020. Since groundwater provides for 40 per cent of the water needs, about 600 million people may be hit.
 

But the problem of groundwater depletion is not only confined to the cities. In fact, it is because of the unbridled exploitation of groundwater that even a short dry spell turns into a more destructive drought. At most places across the country the rate of depletion exceeds 0.5 metre a year and often touches 1 metre. Add to it the reduced availability of water from shrinking rivers; the resulting water crisis has reached worrying levels. Reports say the water availability from the mighty Narmada has declined, from 30.84 million-acre ft in 2007-18 to 14.80 million-acre ft in 2017-18. The Ministry of Water Resources estimates water levels in 91 reservoirs falling to 18 per cent of their capacity. Moreover, water from numerous dams is being diverted from agriculture to meet the needs of the urban areas, including drinking water. This has added to farmer protests, leading to rural-urban conflicts.  

Over the years, the emphasis shifted from water conservation, water harvesting and groundwater recharge. Revival of traditional water bodies, which could have played a major role in drought-proofing, received lip service. Restoration of ponds and measures for recharging groundwater remained incomplete, abandoned or preceded at a slow pace. There still exist close to 2 lakh traditional water bodies, ponds and tanks across the country which need to be revived. In Punjab, where 110 of the 138 blocks are in the ‘dark zone’ (over exploited), the revival of the 15,000 ponds and traditional water bodies could not only help in recharging groundwater, but also providing irrigation. So far, only 54 such ponds have been rejuvenated. Strangely, even in Rajasthan, instead of reviving the excellent water conservation structures perfected over the ages, the emphasis is on drip irrigation. Not even a drop of rainwater was allowed to go waste in these baoris. In Karnataka, an estimated 39,000 traditional ponds and tanks existed. While nearly three-quarters of them have dried up, encroached upon or turned into sewage dumps, there is still a sizeable number that can be revived. Meanwhile, Karnataka has launched a jalamrutha scheme under which the traditional water bodies would be rejuvenated. But the pace needs to be hastened.

Although Karnataka is trying to preserve the kalyanis, and Odisha has the kutta and munda water systems, the traditional wisdom association with water harvesting has been more or less lost. Several years back, travelling to Texas A&M University, I was surprised to see the traditional water harvesting structures of Tamil Nadu being followed. The Centre for Science and Environment had published a book, Dying Wisdom, listing all traditional harvesting systems.

In the age of borewells, the emphasis has to revert to traditional harvesting. Recharging the depleting groundwater in a sustainable manner is urgently required. But this cannot be in isolation. Destroying forests, water bodies, catchment areas in the name of development must cease. Otherwise, crossing the Rubicon may turn out to be catastrophic.”