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Climate Change Jeopardising livelihood of many in Odisha

Updated: March 24, 2012 1:53 pm

Thousands of fisher people, salt workers and agricultural labourers have left their home to work elsewhere in the state and country because of the rising sea level, fall in fish catch, erratic monsoon and flash floods. Similarly in South and Western Odisha people in large numbers have migrated to the nearest and far-off places across the country due to failure of successive crops and threat of an imminent drought condition. Not only this, the spate of farmers’ suicide is still continuing in the state. At least 10 farmers have killed themselves during the last few weeks. And all this is happening because of the climatic adversaries and increasing threat of livelihood for rural artisans.

The threat of global climate change has caused concern for many. Not only scientists but also common people are much worried about the change in climatic pattern. Both land and ocean temperatures are increasing. Hazards include increased flooding in low-lying areas, greater frequency and severity of droughts in semi-arid areas, and excessive heat conditions. All of which can limit crop growth and yields. Although the effects of changes in climate on crop yields are likely to vary greatly from region to region, it is feared that agriculture production and food security could be affected both globally and locally. As a result of which people in large numbers will be homeless, jobless and resourceless. That would force them to leave those areas of their present habitation. And in all probability world will produce millions of climate refugees. That’s’ why migration and poverty are much talked about now.

This year we are celebrating 20 years of Rio-Sustainable Development Summit declarations. A month ago FAO published a comprehensive report on water and land resources, which said, world food production grew up. During the last 50 years, land under cultivation increased up to 12 per cent, but still 2 billion people in the world are living Below Poverty Line. Poor farmers in developing countries are especially vulnerable to these impacts of climate change because of their geographical exposure, low incomes, and greater reliance on agriculture as well as limited capacity to seek alternative livelihoods.

As temperature continues to rise, the impact on agriculture will be significant. This impact is already being experienced by many communities. There will also be an increase in droughts and heavy precipitation events, which will further damage crops through crop failure, flooding, soil and wind erosion. An increase in intense tropical cyclone activities will cause crop damage in coastal eco-systems, while sea-level rise will reduce cropping areas and will salinize coastal aquifers.

Over the past 50 years, humans have changed eco-systems more rapidly and extensively than that in any comparable period of time of inhuman history. Between 1960 and 2005, the demand for eco-system services grew significantly as the world population doubled to over 6 billion people and the global economy increased more than six fold. To meet these growing demands, food production increased by roughly two-and-a-half times, water use doubled, wood harvests for pulp and paper production tripled, and timber production increased by more than half. Agriculture is an essential component of societal well-being and it occupies 40 per cent of the land surface, consumes 70 per cent of global water resources and exploits biodiversity at genetic, species and eco-systems levels. At every point of production, agriculture is influenced by eco-systems, biodiversity, climate and the economy. Modern agriculture is a fossil-fuel-energy-intensive industry and its development is tightly linked to energy factors, trade and globalisation.

In this connection, we need to think about Gandhiji’s ideas and how environmental friendly were the people, during those days. But we have not given any importance to such issues since 1950s.

In all probability 1950 would be the base year in case of assessing the trends of disasters experienced due to climate change and environmental disorders. To prove this trend let’s take an example: the destruction of forests was only 2000 during 1945-80s whereas the destruction reached at 24,000 during the period 1980-2000.

Odisha has been witnessing a warm climate with ever-increasing number of hot days and higher summer temperature, chronic drought and flash floods. As per a report of World Health Organisation (WHO), around 1.5 lakh people are dying each year because of the effects of climate change. Industrial areas like Angul, Talcher, Rourkela, Rajgangpur, Jajpur, Keonjhar and Choudwar are identified as industrial hot spots within Odisha. The temperature of Talcher and Jharsuguda rise up to even 50 degree centigrade. Bhubaneswar temperature is also rising due to city expansion and lot of concrete structures including apartments and also lack of proportionately tree coverage.

All these hotspots have been identified as per a Heat Island Study. Besides these, increasing mining activities ultimately help in large-scale deforestation, displacement and related rehabilitation. The then Member Secretary of Central Pollution Board, New Delhi, has highlighted about Odisha’s steel industry and how the steel industry works as a large Green House Gas (GHG) emitter.

It is mentioned that Puri, Gopalpur Satabhaya and Kantiagarh, Pentha sea beaches are mostly vulnerable and prone to sea erosion while Titilagarh, Talcher, Sukinda and Jharsuguda are recorded as the highly warming up areas so far as geographical areas of Odisha are concerned. Unprecedented floods, cyclone, drought and sunstroke are being experienced every year where thousands of casualties and loss of habitats and livelihoods are reported. This concern was widely felt over by the study and subsequent needs also emerged to have researched upon it for taking up various adaptation and mitigation measures.

Odisha has never experienced any such year where it does not have any natural disaster. So far as the issue is concerned, one hundred disasters are recorded in last 150 years. Odisha government has already installed a radar in Paradeep with an investment of Rs 12 crore for tsunami and cyclone warning assessment with an aim to protect life and livelihood of human being as well as domestic animals. Other projects are also in the pipeline and to be installed in collaboration with Government of India. Government of Odisha has always been saying that it is equipped with all technologies to enable it to evacuate at least two lakh people within a span of two/three hours during any disaster warning but disasters are still continuing in the state killing thousands and destroying life and livelihood of millions.

When asked, a senior state government official said, “The evacuation plan as made available with Orissa Disaster Mitigation Authority (OSDMA) is scientific and it is being practised by OSDMA during pre, during and post-disaster time.” He laid emphasis on advance preparedness for facing such disasters. Needless to mention that he made a promise to provide the required funds for taking forward the action plan, the same action plan shall also be assessed at OSDMA level prior to approval.

He also reiterated the role of corporate and NGOs in implementing and designing various development projects particularly on climate change mitigation.

It has been a great concern that lakhs of people in Odisha would become climate refugees, if the situation would continue where adaptation, mitigation and rehabilitation measures are very much necessary. In other words, daily wage earners, fisher folk and the aged would definitely be victims of climate change, which ultimately work adversely and affect human rights and disrupt social justice.

While speaking to this correspondent, Manas Ranjan Mishra, a prominent development analyst, said, “The draft Odisha Climate Change Action Plan (OCCAP) prepared under the aegis of the World Bank and DFID does not consider the concern and interest of common people of the state. Neither does it reflect state’s seriousness towards self-discipline, sobriety and adaptation; rather vociferously reiterates its nexus with neo-liberal lobby which propounds reckless industrialisation and unwarranted investment.”

He further added, “Notwithstanding the fact that its citizens are either the victims of climate change or are the vulnerable lot at coastal areas and the hills, the government treats them as the climate criminals while allowing the criminals to expand and multiply their crimes. With its focus on promoting investment-intensive measures as a tool to encourage state’s ongoing unabated industrialisation drive, it looks more as an “Investment Plan for Industrialisation” offering almost nothing for state’s farmers, fishers, forest-produce gatherers.”

However, an analysis made by Focus Odisha Forum on climate change revealed Odisha government’s Draft Climate Change Action Plan with a huge budget of Rs 17,000 crore, which seeks to help industries more by reducing their expenditure on adapting to climate change, while providing hardly any budget for the victims of climate change at Saatabhayaa, around Talcher and Jharsuguda.

It proposes a 15-fold increase in the capacity of thermal power plants under the guise of improvement of technology which alone could lead to at least thirteen times higher levels of emission of heat and pollution. One can imagine the hazards that the already boiling Talcher and Jharsuguda will face in this scenario. A budget of Rs 5500-crore is made for reducing transmission and distribution losses which is only going to help private energy companies sell more electricity and make more money. On the contrary allocation of mere Rs 4 crore for the establishment of biogas plants can support only about 5000 biogas plants, which is even insufficient for one block.

Two of the most critical areas of climate change impacts are falling production in agriculture, livestock and fishery; and increasing health hazards due to heat-related illnesses and accidents. There is no budget under the action plan for something as obvious and basic as preventing and treating heatstrokes. The livestock sector is seen by the government less as a victim of climate change and more as a producer of methane. The climate change action plan accuses the farmers of Odisha of not killing old and unproductive cattle due to religious cultural reasons and that this leads to large-scale methane emissions.

By Sudarshan Chhotoray From Bhubaneswar

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