Disasters and Climate Adversaries

South Africa battles water crisis

South Africa has witnessed extreme climates in the past few years. Drought and depleting groundwater have become common all over the country. Cape Town, the capital of South Africa battled ‘Zero Hour’ in 2018, where 37 lakh people had to face prolonged water shortage.

Recently, Cape Town faced ‘Day Zero’, implying the period when the groundwater level went down by up to 20% and the residents witnessed the most critical challenge of the water crisis.

Brazil’s extensive drought problem

South American nation Brazil’s Energy Ministry recently published a study on falling rainfall in the region. The study indicated that between September 2020 and June 2021, Brazil witnessed the lowest rainfall in over 91 years.

The drought-like situation in the Amazon rainforest and its adjoining territories is accelerated. United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) study suggests that the region has witnessed the worst drought-like conditions in the last 50 years.

Rain grips the South Indian states

Since the past decade, it has been observed that there is a rise in the imbalance of monsoon patterns in the country. It has further caused unseasonal rains in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. Moreover, cities like Bangalore and Chennai have witnessed floods causing heavy disruption and rendering thousands of people homeless.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, 34 people died of these floods and around 50 thousand people were sent to local shelter homes. The Indian Air Force, National Disaster Response Force and state relief teams worked together and helped in rescue operations to avoid further damage to life.

‘Urban heat island’

Climate change has heavily impacted the monsoon pattern in the country however, it has been experienced differently in rural and urban areas. Since 2015, major cities like Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Bengaluru, Patna, etc have faced urban floods. Urban flooding is primarily caused by the effects of ‘Urban heat island’.

Urban spaces lack natural habitats like lakes and forests due to which they witness higher temperatures compared to rural areas. This is known as the urban heat island effect. Factors such as high population, poor drainage system, illegal encroachment of forests and water bodies also contribute to this effect.

The Flooded State of Assam

With heavy rainfall and ten rivers flowing through its area, the state of Assam is prone to regular floods. Assam has a history of witnessing massive floods as it was flooded 11 times between 1954 to 2020. Although annual rainfall in Assam is declining, sudden and extreme rainfall is the cause of the floods in the area.

Floods in 2020 were the most destructive floods the state has ever faced through the years. It caused landslides in the area and took the lives of at least 21 people. Moreover, 2,63,203 hectares of crops were destroyed. Around 45,000 cattle were either lost or abandoned as people left their farms and villages due to floods and a total of 315 villages were submerged. Covid and floods combined pushed 70% of the population of Assam into poverty. Floods also reached important sanctuaries and world heritage sites like Kaziranga National Park and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary. Around 125 animals, including 12 rhinos died in these regions, while authorities rescued about 150 animals.

Disastrously Yours - The Brahmaputra river

A long time ago, weak floods of short duration used to be more beneficial than destructive for the state of Assam. One significant advantage of these weak floods was that they used to bring sediments and deposits with them. These new sediments and deposits rejuvenated the land and made it more fertile.

However, it has been completely changed over time. With more frequent and intense floods, the area has witnessed huge catastrophes and 4.27 lakh hectares of land (7% of total land) in Assam have been eroded by the Brahmputra river and its tributaries in the last few decades according to Assam Government’s website. On average, 800 hectares of area is eroded annually in the state. The website also highlights that due to riverbank erosions, the width of the river Brahmputra has increased up to 15 km at some places, and the area occupied by the river has increased drastically over the years. In 1975, the area of the Brahmaputra river was 4,850 sq km, however, according to a recent survey, it has expanded to 6,080 sq km. If the embankments are not regularly serviced or cleaned, they get choked as the river carries plenty of deposits and sediments. As a result, the river starts to overflow, and the embankments in place often fail to restrict the flow of the river. When these embankments fail, riverine agricultural land is lost in erosion, which further impacts the rural and agricultural economy.