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IIT Report Indicates Seemanchal Districts as Highly Susceptible to Climate Change

syed jaffer imam Reported By Syed Jaffer Imam |
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The Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT) Mandi and The Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati, in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, published a report on climate change in the year 2019-20. The report released a list of the most vulnerable districts in 27 states and 2 union territories of India based on the efffects of climate change.

Bihar’s Kishanganj topped the list of most vulnerable districts in the state, followed by Katihar district which sat in second place. Purnia secured the fourth position, while Araria was identified as the 7th most vulnerable district in Bihar. Being vulnerable to climate change means that the districts mentioned in this list are experiencing the harshest impacts of climate change in terms of severity and intensity.

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Kishanganj: The Most vulnerable district in The State

Kishanganj is most affected by climate change in terms of its impact. This report assigns a number to each district based on its vulnerability, called Vulnerability Indices (VIs). Kishanganj has the highest VI score of 0.735, while Katihar, in second place, has a score of 0.700. Purnia has 0.641 while Araria’s VIs score is 0.613. According to the report, Aurangabad is the least vulnerable district in Bihar, with a VI score of 0.367.

Another meaning of the districts in the Seemanchal region being on top of this list is that these districts lag behind other districts in various aspects such as healthcare infrastructure, availability of clean water, food supply, and sustainable agriculture. The VIs score mentioned in the report takes all these factors into account.

“Our crops have turned to ashes”

The crops spread over 2 acres of land belonging to Mohammad Aleemuddin, a resident of Chikabadi Panchayat under Bahadurganj Block in Kishanganj district, have been severely affected by the scorching heat. The crops of jute and some vegetables have also been burnt badly. Mohammad Aleemuddin mentioned that besides corn, he had also planted crops of mung beans, pointed gourd, and okra, but due to the lack of rainfall this year, all the crops were burnt and destroyed. He had provided water to the fields twice, but the heat was so intense that the crops could not survive.

Aleemuddin had sown the crops in March, and the harvesting was supposed to take place in July-August, but the crops were destroyed in May itself. “There has been absolutely no rainfall this time. There was a brief drizzle for a day or two, but it only caused more damage to the crops. The heat has intensified to the extent that no one goes outside after 9 o’clock. More than the two-acre plot of jute has been burnt. The crops of pointed gourd and mung beans have also been destroyed, and this time, even fruits are not coming.” he said.

Aleemuddin is hoping for compensation from the government for his losses. He spoke to Krishnanand Chakravarti, the Agriculture Department officer in Kishanganj, over the phone and narrated his ordeal. The District Agriculture Officer advised him to send a written letter, and after that, an officer will visit the village to conduct an investigation.

Aliuddin’s elder brother Mohammad Ameeruddin found himself surrounded by hot winds and scorching sunlight in his approximately 1.5-acre field. He said, “This year, due to the summer season, all the crops have turned to ashes. There hasn’t been even a drop of water this time. Due to the lack of water, my sorghum, jute, and mung beans have been destroyed. The heat is becoming unbearable. It would be good if the government assists, not just us but everyone. We, farmers, are troubled by the lack of water in our fields.”

According to the “Climate Transparency Report 2022”, around 36 million hectares of agricultural land in India were lost due to natural causes between 2006 and 2021. This resulted in a loss of more than 3.08 trillion rupees.

What do Scientists Say About Climate Change?

Dr. Swaraj Datta, an agricultural scientist working at Kalam Agricultural College in Kishanganj, spoke to Main Media on this issue. He explained that climate change is a significant challenge for the global population and is not limited to any particular region. He mentioned that in the region of Seemanchal, it has been observed in recent years that there is reduced rainfall in March and April compared to the past. This leads to increased vulnerability of the rabi crops. Sometimes there is very little rainfall for several months, while other months experience excessive rainfall. This fluctuation increases the risks of droughts and floods in many areas.

Swaraj Datta said, “We are all part of one system. This is a global change. Sometimes there is no rainfall for many days, and then suddenly there is heavy rainfall, leading to flood situations. The increase in greenhouse gases in the environment raises the temperature, affecting the movement of air. Such changes in air circulation result in problems like excessive or reduced rainfall. This year, during the rabi season in Kishanganj, there hasn’t been a single drop of rain, which has destroyed crops.”

Climate change is a global crisis that requires collaborative efforts from all countries worldwide to overcome. The Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences and the Department of Science and Technology, along with the Science and Engineering Research Board, have published a report titled “India’s Climate Change Research Agenda 2030 and Beyond.” According to this report, it is estimated that the global average temperature will increase by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius in the next 20 years due to climate change. This is concerning because, in the past 110 years (1901-2010), there has been an average increase of 0.6 degrees Celsius in global temperatures. It means that the average temperature of the planet is projected to increase twice as fast in the next 50 years.

The “India’s Climate Change Research Agenda 2030 and Beyond” report states that this escalation will lead to an accelerated rise in problems such as cyclones, excessive rainfall, droughts, and heatwaves in India. According to the report, Bihar is among the eight states in India that will experience the most significant impact of climate change. Bihar also has 23 districts among the 100 most vulnerable districts in India. Only Assam (with 24 districts) is ahead of Bihar on this list.

The number of human casualties due to climate change continues to rise. In the year 2022, out of all the deaths worldwide, 23% were attributed to climate change.

Why is the Quality of Water Continuously Decreasing?

Agricultural scientist and Assistant Professor at Dr. Kalam Agriculture College, Dharmendra Kumar Verma, explained that until 2017-18, the intensity of rainfall was very good, and the temperature remained fairly normal. However, since 2022, the temperature has been consistently increasing. Rainfall has also decreased significantly. Previously, there used to be rainfall of 1100-1200 millimeters, but now it is much lower. This has resulted in a decrease in rice cultivation while maize cultivation has increased.

He further mentioned that in a survey conducted in the Kishanganj district, it was found that the pH level of water ranged from 5.5 to 6.1, which is lower than normal. The water quality is unsafe, and the areas also have a high concentration of iron in the water. If the pH level is below 6.5 or above 8.5, the water is considered unsafe for drinking. There is a high presence of microorganisms in the water of Kishanganj. Although water is abundant in these areas, its quality is poor.

Dharmendra Kumar also stated that an excessive amount of iron in the water leads to an increase in diseases. It can cause weakness in the body and hair loss at a young age. The iron content in the water should be less than 1 ppm, but in some areas of Kishanganj, it is more than 15 ppm.

He also mentioned that the decrease in rainfall will negatively affect the cultivation of tea, pineapple, and dragon fruit in Kishanganj.

Due to climate change, many areas of the Seemanchal region are experiencing excessive rainfall and occasional drought-like conditions. This also affects the soil, but it is a long-term transformation. By working on it from now, we can cope with this crisis in a better way.” said Dharmendra Kumar.

Declining Groundwater Levels in Bihar

According to a report by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the groundwater level in northern India decreased by 15 to 25 centimeters annually between 2002 and 2013. In southern India, the groundwater level decreased by 1 to 2 centimeters.

Agricultural scientist Swaraj Kumar believes that an increase in temperature due to climate change indicates a decrease in rainfall, which ultimately leads to a decline in the groundwater level. He gave the example of the Darbhanga district, where the groundwater level has been consistently decreasing for the past three years. If there is more rainfall, the groundwater level will rise. Afforestation can be a good and simple way to increase the groundwater level.

Less Rainfall, More Worries

Assistant Professor and meteorologist Ajit Kumar Mandal from the Agriculture College in Kishanganj stated that climate change is a crisis for the entire world. Human activities contribute to the emission of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases through factories and vehicles, leading to environmental degradation. This prevents solar radiation from escaping, causing climate change.

He further mentioned that there has been a lack of rainfall in Kishanganj and several other districts of Bihar, during this year’s Rabi season. Consequently, the summer season will be hotter this year. Ajit Kumar Mandal shared rainfall data with us, showing figures from October 1, 2022, to June.

From October 1, 2022, to June 5, 2023, there were only 31 days of rainfall. Even during that period, from March to June, the sky only poured water for 10 days. Out of these 10 days, only four had rainfall exceeding 10 millimeters.

Ajit expresses concern over the scarcity of rainfall, stating, “Rainfall is crucial. This year, we have experienced very little rainfall. Insufficient rainfall will lead to drought, causing many trees to wither, and a rapid change in the environment due to rising temperatures. Bihar receives the highest rainfall in the border region, but this year, there has been very little rainfall. The problem with inadequate rainfall is that there may be sudden heavy rainfall on any given day, leading to situations like floods, which can cause significant damage.”

How to Combat Climate Change?

Ajit Kumar believes that climate change is happening on a large scale, and at the local level, everyone can contribute to minimizing its effect. It requires collective efforts to work towards its mitigation. Planting more trees should be encouraged, and efforts should be made to reduce the use of petrol and diesel vehicles. Attention should also be given to the use of factories. If everyone contributes a little, we can achieve positive results in the future.

During a conversation with ‘Main Media,’ agricultural scientist Swaraj Kumar Datta suggested some measures to avoid such disasters. He said that planting trees on barren land in the border areas could be a good start. Additionally, farmers in the border regions can move towards sericulture (silkworm farming) and horticulture (gardening). Such crops are less affected by the instability of weather, reducing the possibility of losses for farmers.

He further mentioned that the Bihar government has initiated the “Jal Jeevan Hariyali Yojana” under which the “Climate Resilient Agricultural Program” is being implemented. Awareness is being spread among farmers in every district through this program. Swaraj Datta believes that various new steps are being taken in the agricultural sector to address problems like global warming and climate change. One of these steps is diversified farming. Diversified farming means that farmers cultivate various types of crops to avoid dependency on just one type of crop.

Multi-crop farming reduces the risk of damage from natural disasters. Since farmers in this type of farming cultivate different crops, they can better withstand adversities like excessive or inadequate rainfall.

Districts of Seemanchal are ‘Feeling the Heat’

From the 1st to the 7th of June this year, a heatwave was observed in more than half a dozen districts of Bihar. Purnia, Katihar, and Araria were the main districts to be affected. During these days, the temperature in Kishanganj remained around 40 degrees Celsius. Meanwhile, Purnia, Katihar, and Araria recorded temperatures continuously reaching up to 42 degrees Celsius. The increasing temperature and decreasing rainfall in the border region should be considered as a warning sign in the upcoming days.

Bihar’s districts being consistently labeled as ‘vulnerable’ in reports related to the environment is a serious matter. It will be interesting to see where climate change and global warming stand in the electoral manifestos of Bihar’s parties for the upcoming elections.

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Syed Jafar Imam, born in Kishanganj, began his journey in journalism from Delhi in 2017. He has worked for Public Vichar, A.M. 24 Bihar, Scribblers India, Swan Tree Foundation, and Jamia Patrika. Since the publication of his book "A Panic Attack On The Subway" in 2021, he has been vocal on social media about mental health issues.

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