In 9 Months India witnessed some form of natural disaster almost every day: report

CSE in its new report on extreme weather revealed that India recorded extreme weather events on 242 of the 273 days between January 1 and September 30, 2022. This means that more than 88 per cent of the time over these nine months, the country was witnessing an extreme weather event of some sort happening in one or more of its regions.

The assessment provides a comprehensive overview of the state of extreme weather in India across a major part of the year.

Along with this report, Down To Earth has also launched India’s Atlas on Weather Disasters, an online public interactive database on extreme weather events that would be updated every month.

“What the country has witnessed so far in 2022 is the new abnormal in a warming world. There is a clear spike in frequency and intensity of extreme events that we are seeing,” said CSE director general Sunita Narain while releasing the report.

“Our report provides season-wise, month-wise and region-wise analysis of extreme weather events and their associated loss and damage. It is an attempt to build an evidence base on the frequency and expanding geography of extreme weather events in India. This is extremely important as the data that is publicly available on this subject is fragmented and fails to provide the overall picture,” added Narain.

What the report says

  • A disaster almost every day: India has seen close to a disaster every day in the nine months of this year – from heat and cold waves, cyclones and lightning to heavy rains, floods, and landslides.
  • Loss and damage under-estimated: These disasters have claimed 2,755 lives, affected 1.8 million hectares of crop area, destroyed over 416,667 houses and killed close to 70,000 livestock. Says Rajit Sengupta, associate editor of Down To Earth and one of the writers of the report: “This estimation of loss and damage is probably an underestimate as data for each event – including losses of public property or crop loss — has not been collated or estimated.”
  • With an event every second day, Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of days with extreme weather events, but Himachal Pradesh saw the highest number of human fatalities — 359 deaths. Madhya Pradesh and Assam witnessed 301 human deaths each.
  • Assam reported the highest number of damaged houses and animal deaths.
  • Karnataka, which experienced an extreme weather event on 82 days, accounted for more than 50 per cent of the crop area affected in the country. Madhya Pradesh, as per official records, did not report any crop area damage. Sengupta says this could be due to “gaps in loss and damage reporting”.
  • The central and north-western regions reported the highest number of days with extreme weather events at 198 and 195, respectively. In terms of human lives lost, central India topped the list with 887 deaths, followed by the east and northeast (783 deaths).
  • Warmest, wettest, driest: In 2022, India recorded its seventh wettest January since 1901. This March was also the warmest ever and the third driest in 121 years. It was also the country’s third warmest April, 11th warmest August and 8th warmest September since 1901.
  • Eastern and northeastern India saw its warmest and driest July in 121 years. The region also recorded its second-warmest August and fourth-warmest September in 2022.
  • In terms of the ‘nature’ of the event, all types of extreme weather have been seen in the past nine months – lightning and storms were spread over 30 states and claimed 773 lives. Every day of the three months of the monsoon – from June to August – indicates heavy to very heavy and extremely heavy rainfall in some parts of the country. This is why the flood devastation has not spared any region – in Assam, for instance, vast parts of the state were submerged leading to loss of lives, property and livelihoods.
  • Heat waves claimed 45 lives, but what is not captured in the official data is the impact of the prolonged high temperatures on people’s well-being in north India – from farmers to construction workers — and how they coped with the intense and searing heat.
  • The good news is that fatalities because of cyclones were few – only two lives were lost according to available data from cyclones that destroyed 95,066 hectare in the country. Said Narain: “This is because of the amazing work done by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on cyclone forecasting so that there is adequate warning to governments. It is also because state governments – particularly those in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal — have improved their systems of disaster management.”

Definitions, sources and the assessment methodology

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines extreme weather events as those that are “rare at a particular place and time of year”. While India does not have an official definition, the India Meteorological Department (IMD), in its annual “Statement of Climate of India” reports, classifies lightning and thunderstorm, heavy to very and extremely heavy rainfall, landslide and floods, cold wave, heat wave, cyclones, snowfall, dust and sandstorms, squalls, hailstorms and gales as extreme weather events. The agency has defined each of these weather events under its website “Climate Hazards and Vulnerability Atlas of India”, launched in January 2022, and in its other publications.

CSE’s India 2022: An Assessment of Extreme Weather Events report has sourced its data from two key Indian government sources – the IMD and the Disaster Management Division (DMD) of the Union Ministry of Home Affairs. In addition, it has scanned media reports to track the events, particularly in the pre-monsoon period when official data is sketchy. The media reports have also provided further information on the extent of loss and damage.

From IMD: The information on extreme weather events in the past 24 hours and forecasts and warnings are published by the IMD in its All India Weather Summary and Forecast bulletins and its daily press releases. On loss and damage due to extreme weather events, the IMD uses media reports and publishes the number of human deaths and livestock losses in its ‘Climate Summary for the Month’.

From DMD: The department under the Union Ministry of Home Affairs issues ‘Situation report regarding flood/heavy rainfall in the country’ as and when the event occurs. From June 2022, the situation reports have provided the ‘Cumulative loss and damage data for the monsoon season’, which gives information on human deaths during this period because of drowning, lightning strikes, landslides etc, as well as data on damage to houses, crops and livestock.

In the case of any discrepancy in the three sources – IMD, DMD and media reports — the source with the highest reported number has been considered. Also, as DMD does not provide data on crop area affected for the pre-monsoon period, CSE/DTE has sourced it from media reports (which is also used by IMD for compiling its loss and damage data).

Gaps in data: Says Kiran Pandey, programme director of CSE’s Environmental Resources unit and one of the writers of the report: “While a realistic estimate can be made about the number of days the country recorded extreme weather events from the IMD releases, major gaps remain when it comes to loss and damage assessment. DMD provides data as received by the states and this is mainly for the monsoon season. It does not all include extreme events, as defined by the IMD.”

CSE researchers say that the data itself is not comprehensive. For instance, media reports suggest widespread crop loss in Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat during the monsoon season (June-September), but the Centre’s cumulative loss and damage report for the season claims that there have been no losses in these states. The absence of a robust public database on extreme weather events in the country poses difficulties in the evaluation of disaster situations and its impacts.

Says Narain: “It is clear that now, given the intensity and frequency of these events the country no longer needs to count just the disasters; it needs credible numbers on the losses and damages.”

She adds: “This is what is the watermark of climate change. It is not about a single event but about the increased frequency of the events – that what we saw as the one in 100 years extreme event has now been compressed to become one in five years or even less. Worse, it is now all coming together – each month is breaking a new record. This, in turn, is breaking the backs of the poorest who are worst impacted and are fast losing their capacities to cope with these repeated and frequent events.”

Narain explains that this is the reason why the “extreme weather report card” prepared by CSE and Down To Earth is important to understand. She says: “The report speaks of the need to do much for managing these extreme events – we have to move beyond management of the disaster to reducing risks and improving resilience. This is why we need more than words to improve the systems for flood management – deliberately building drainage and water recharge systems on the one hand and investing in green spaces and forests so that these sponges of water can be revitalised for the coming storms.”

She adds: “This also speaks of the need to demand reparations for the damage from the countries that have contributed to the emissions in the atmosphere and are responsible for this damage. The models that explain the impacts of climate change are clear that extreme weather events will increase in frequency and intensity. This is what we are seeing today. This report card is not good news. But it needs to be read so that we understand the revenge of nature that we are witnessing today and also understand that it will get worse tomorrow if we do not combat climate change at the scale that is needed.”

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