Showing posts with label Extreme Weather. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Extreme Weather. Show all posts

July 26, 2018

Act now to spur urban climate resilience

Like most cities in India, Bhubaneswar is being driven to its knees due to extreme rainfall and intolerable temperatures, underscoring the urgent need for climate-smart urban planning 

After intense overnight showers, Bhubaneswar woke up on Saturday, July 21, morning with half the city under water. The situation at the capital of the eastern state of Odisha in many ways typifies poor urban management in India that is crumbling under adverse climatic conditions.

Residents in many parts of the city were stranded in their homes and the condition was so dire in some parts that the state’s disaster response team has to start rescue operations. Roads in the state capital looked like gushing streams. Disaster response forces moved to waterlogged areas with floating pumps to drain out water.

“Such situations have become annual events for the city of Bhubaneswar with heavy downpour becoming normal during rainy seasons,” Arun Samal, an accounts professional, told

Delayed monsoon

“There was only scanty rain since the onset of the monsoon till middle of July. Then, suddenly, we get two months’ rain within a week,” Samal said. “Such heavy rain for a short span would hardly help agriculture or serve any purpose but to make life miserable.” Within 24 hours till 8.30 AM, July 21, Bhubaneswar received a rainfall of 195 mm, according to Skymet Weather.

As the onset of monsoon was delayed this season, rain deficiency during June was 27% over Odisha. “As the rains continue to evade the state even during the first few days of July, thus until July 7, the deficiency mounted to a whopping minus 30%,” Skymet said.

According to India Meteorological Department data, rainfall in Bhubaneswar’s home district Khordha was deficient by 19% as on July 7. But, by July 21, the district received 29% surplus rainfall because of a few days of heavy rainfall. Although this cannot be directly related to climate change, untimely and intense rainfall is considered as one of the impacts of climate change.

Rise in the daytime ozone-mixing ratio due to high temperature during June could be provoking favourable conditions for higher ground level ozone formation and resulting in shifting the monsoon activation time to July, a study on surface ozone variation at Bhubaneswar suspected.

“Such pattern of a dry monsoon with a few days of extreme rainy days is induced by the phenomenon of climate change,” Prasanna Mishra, a retired bureaucrat and long time city resident, told

Summer heat

Even as extreme rainy days bring the city to a standstill, the heat on summer days is also becoming unbearable. This year in February, the highest temperature in Bhubaneswar reached 35 degrees Celsius, 7 degrees above normal. In March, the city remained the hottest in the country with 39.8 degrees. The mercury in the city touched 45.8 in April and continued to remain above 40 degrees during the next two months, with a lingering heat wave in the month of June, the month of monsoon’s onset.

“With high temperature and humidity, Bhubaneswar converts into a heat island during summer months almost since the past two decades,” Akshaya Pradhan, a physics teacher at the city based Biju Patnaik College of Science and Education, told

According to research, if wet bulb temperature (wet bulb temperature is a combined measure of temperature and humidity in the ambient air) exceeds 35 degrees Celsius, metabolic heat in humans can no longer be dissipated. Exposure to it for six hours would result in death even for the fittest of humans under shaded, well-ventilated conditions.

A sizable part of the Indian subcontinent is likely to experience more frequent and intensified heat waves and associated physical stress during the extended period covering the pre-monsoon to monsoon seasons, the research indicated.

Unruly expansion

Even though climate change is responsible for the extreme weather conditions experienced in Bhubaneswar, the impacts can be minimised through proper land use, said Mishra.

“Unfortunately, the city is expanding in an unruly manner. The natural channels for rainwater drainage are chocked at all ends and water bodies in the city have vanished to make space for housing and other commercial activities,” he said. “Despite strong guidelines, plans for high-rise buildings and apartments are being approved indiscriminately, without considering aspects like water drainage, sewage and waste management.”

Since most of the city is covered by concrete, there is no scope for the rainwater to seep into the soil, which would also recharge groundwater, said Niranjan Sahu, a tent house owner. “Because of this, groundwater level is continuously depleting,” he said.

Planned for a population of 40,000, Bhubaneswar now accommodates nearly a million people. As it expanded, things went erratic and now people face the problems, said Brundaban Dalabehera, a real estate developer.

Need of futuristic planning

“As the city now aspires to become the sports capital of India, it needs to address the issues that are vital to offer quality life to its denizens,” Dalabehera told

In order to protect the environment and avoid such man-made calamities, the city needs to restore its natural drainage systems on a priority basis, said Ramesh Swain, an architect and Bhubaneswar’s leading town planner.

“City planning needs to be futuristic considering what the city would be 20-30 years ahead and what would be population pressure and possible issues. People also should be educated to partner in the process,” he said.

Climate change impacts are being experienced globally and cities across the world are facing issues induced by it. Building resilience should be the priority to ensure sustainable urban growth.

Already ranked as a smart city, Mishra claimed, with two rivers and a wildlife sanctuary surrounding Bhubaneswar, Odisha’s capital city can become climate-smart and a model eco-friendly city if it is allowed to grow in harmony with nature and a bit of green is added to its development planning.

This article first appeared on the India Climate Dialogue, on July 23, 2018

March 06, 2015

India’s climate change dilemma

From coastal to tropical and sub-tropical regions, farmers and forest dwellers across the eastern Indian state of Odisha encounter livelihood issues as climate change has severely impacted agriculture and forced people to migrate.

"With the climate changing faster since 1980s, we have been living under threats from nature. Rain patterns have become abnormal and unpredictable. We have lost our basic livelihood source - agriculture," said Gandharba Kandoi, a farmer in Udaykani village on the fringe of the Bay of Bengal.

"We have been experiencing extreme weather conditions since 1999, the year a super cyclone took more than 10,000 lives," Kandoi added.

"The saline water has been our biggest enemy. It regularly damages our crops and forces us to leave the village as there is no alternate livelihood option in this place," said Dhabaleswar Pradhan, a farmer from a nearby village. 

Forced to leave

Realizing the threat to their livelihood, many from these villages have already moved to other places. They turned into migrant laborers just to survive.

"About half of the youth from each of the villages has left the state as laborers. Even if their parents need the young members of the family to remain with them, they have no other choice," says Harihar Jena, a local social worker.

Climate change has also impacted the lives of the agrarian tribal communities living in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Erratic rain patterns have hit agriculture hard.

"Upland paddy fields normally encounter dry spells. Low lands with some irrigation facilities fail to provide for our family's food requirements," said Sumani Jhodia, a female farmer as well as community leader from Kashipur in south Odisha.

Deforestation and industrialization in the name of development has largely affected the tropical climate as well.

Apart from agriculture, forests have become unreliable to tribal and other forest dwellers who, since many generations, are dependent on roots, stems, fruits and other forest products. 

Industrialization's impact

In view of the drastic change in the climate since the Vedanta Aluminium plant was established on the foot of Niyamgiri hill, tribal leader Kumti Majhi said, "We believe the forest does not produce fruits and stems as much as before and rainfall is not as frequent."

"For the past five to six years, we feel that the rainfall pattern has been affected by industrialization in the area. We have frequently been suffering from cholera outbreaks. The rainfall has been drastically reduced," said Dillip Kumar Das, a developmental activist who heads Antodaya, a non-government organization working for the people's welfare in the poverty-stricken Kalahandi district.

The situation is even worse in places where large-scale mining activities are taking place. In Barbil, the hub of iron ore mining, people are virtually forced to abandon agriculture work.

"We wanted to continue with farming. But the flush water from the hills and the mineral dust have been lethal to our agriculture. So most of the tribal people have abandoned their land and opted to work in the mines or railway siding sites," said Bhagaban Chatamba, a tribal leader of the mineral-rich Keonjhar district.

Because of excessive mining activities and subsequent deforestation, "the rainy season has shifted. Rainfall is delayed by two months and doesn't occur as much," said Abhay Kumar Mishra, a development worker in the Joda-Barbil mining cluster.

"Extreme weather together with pollution from mining activities have also made people vulnerable to health hazards like asthma and malaria," Mishra added.

Asked about the impact of climate change on agriculture, agronomist Hemant Kumar Sahu said, "Due to climate change our agriculture is suffering the most. We are now training farmers to diversify their crops, crops that can withstand climate change." 

Finding a solution

Following the advice of scientists and various policy advocates, "many farmers living in the seaside villages of Odisha have opted to raise betel vines instead of the usual paddy cultivation. Yes, they are earning more these days. But since the farmers do not work in the paddies, their profit is used to buy food.  This is a problem because of high food prices," said social activist N A Shah Ansari, who runs a community radio station.

Government policies promote mono-cropping and commercial farming.­

But this not only prevents tribal farmers from growing a variety of crops and millets to meet their food requirements, but also leaves a majority of tribal farm laborers unemployed.

However, developmental policy analysts believe that the communities have their own take on how to deal with the problems.

"But the problem is that their knowledge is never taken into account by the scientific community working in the area, which ultimately results in a wide policy gap," said Vidhya Das, a known developmental policy analyst and director of Agragami, a non-profit organization working on the rights and welfare of indigenous communities.

"There is conservation agriculture, which is known to sequester carbon into the soil and reduce carbon emissions; there is agro-ecology which is being practiced, and Latin America has huge projects on agro-ecology," Das said.

"Swedish farmers are showing the way in this field of agriculture. And if you import that expertise and try to combine it with local knowledge, the tribal people's agriculture and the livelihood systems will thrive."

This report came on March 4, 2015, in the Global Times.