Repeating the past: India's ongoing struggle with extreme climate events
India's inability to learn from repeated extreme weather events has taken lives, destroyed property and agricultural lands, resulting in huge revenue losses
India is vulnerable to extreme climate events such as cyclones, floods, earthquakes, landslides and more. These events take lives and cause major destructions in properties and agricultural lands, and often result in revenue losses.
From Kashmir to Chennai, Bengaluru to Mumbai, and Kerala to Assam, no region has been spared from the devastating consequences of these intense downpours, which have resulted in widespread flooding, destruction, and tragically, loss of lives.
The recent bout of heavy rainfall in northern India, while exceptionally intense in some areas, comes as no surprise to experts who have long predicted such occurrences. However, it serves as a stark reminder that even greater extremes are unfolding worldwide, with alarming regularity.
These relentless extreme weather events demand urgent attention and concerted action. Experts warn that the time for complacency is over. As India battles the deluge, it is crucial for authorities, policymakers, and communities to prioritize comprehensive disaster preparedness, robust infrastructure, and climate resilience measures.
Saleemul Haq, director at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development, said the region is particularly at risk because of a combination of geography, population and poverty. Failure to address the underlying causes and take proactive steps risks further loss of life, displacement, and economic disruption.
Extreme events themselves may have become an unfortunate reality, but let's be clear: the disasters they unleash are not inherently unavoidable. Behind the scenes of these calamities, there is often an aggravating factor at play — a disturbing cocktail of official incompetence, neglect, callousness, and all too frequently, unabashed greed.
These man-made elements exacerbate the impact of natural forces, turning what could have been manageable crises into full-blown catastrophes. It is high time we acknowledge the human handprints in these disasters and hold accountable those responsible for their preventable consequences.
India must harness scientific knowledge, invest in climate adaptation strategies, and work towards sustainable development to mitigate the impact of these escalating extreme rainfall events and protect its vulnerable populations.
Here are some extreme climate events that India experienced in the past few years:
2004: On 26 December, a massive earthquake of magnitude 9.1 triggered a Tsunami that caused extreme destruction in the coastal regions of the Indian ocean, including India. Estimates suggest 10,749 people were killed, 5,640 people went missing and thousands became homeless due to the Tsunami.
2005: On 26 July, Mumbai received 944 mm rainfall in a single day. The intensity of rain received on that day was more than what many parts of the country receive in an entire year, resulting in a flood that killed over 1000 people while the whole city came to a standstill. In the aftermath, Mumbai was hit by leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that spread through the accumulated flood waters.
2010: On 6 August, the Ladakh region experienced devastating flash floods. The cloudburst event killed 255 people. According to the deputy commissioner’s office, the large-scale destruction and loss of lives during the 2010 floods were caused by the rapidly moving volumes of water charged with sand, mud, building debris, waste, boulders, trees and other objects swept up by the flow.
2013: On 16 June, a mid-day cloudburst in Uttarakhand caused devastating floods and landslides. It soon became the worst natural disaster since the 2004 tsunami that the country had ever witnessed. The rainfall received that month was far greater than the rainfall the state usually received. Debris blocked the rivers, causing major overflow. Due to the floods, several houses and structures were damaged, killing those who were trapped. While official estimates put the death toll at 5,700, it is believed that over 10,000 people died in the extreme weather event.
The Uttarakhand disaster was aggravated by unregulated construction and ill-planned infrastructure works, as per reports.
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2014: From 2 September, Jammu and Kashmir along with the adjoining areas received heavy rainfall during the last stage of the monsoon in India. This triggered flooding and landslides in India and the adjoining areas of Pakistan. By 24 September 2014, nearly 277 people in India and about 280 people in Pakistan had died due to the floods, causing worst floods recorded in the region in the past 60 years.
2018: On 16 August, severe floods affected Kerala, due to unusually high rainfall during the monsoon season. It was the worst flood in Kerala in nearly a century. Over 483 people died, and 15 went missing.
2019: It was a series of floods that affected over thirteen states in late July and early August 2019, due to excessive rains. At least 200 people died and about a million people were displaced. Karnataka and Maharashtra were the most severely affected states.
2021: More than 180 people have died after heavy rainfall triggered flash floods in Uttarakhand, Kerala and the neighboring country, Nepal. Homes were submerged or crushed by rocks swept into them by landslides. At least 88 people died in Nepal and 55 in Uttarakhand, including five from a single family, with dozens more missing in both nations.
2023: This year, while most parts of India received significant rainfall in the first eight days of July, making up for the shortfall in rainfall across the country, according to the IMD data, there has been a major difference in the amount of rain received by different places. Till now, at least 22 people have been killed across northern India due to rains causing landslides and flash floods in the region, officials have said.
Major causes of floods in India, as per reports, include inadequate capacity within the banks of the rivers to contain the high flows brought down from the upper catchments due to heavy rainfall, encroachments of flood plains, and poor drainage in the catchment areas of rivers.
India's urban population is anticipated to reach 814 million by 2050. As a result, it is important for the government to focus on proper planning and urban renewal initiatives as essential components in order to reduce urban flooding, the floods cause in densely populated cities where rainfall exceeds drainage systems' capacity.