Almost everybody has experienced one or the other examples of odd climatic event: sudden temperature rise followed by drop in winter, unseasonal rains, long dry spell or too much rain in a very short period etc. last week, everybody experienced such fluctuations much more closely. Neither our physical nor institutional infrastructure is sufficiently agile and resilient yet to deal with these events adequately. There were several ways in which communities had evolved local ways of dealing with these fluctuations in olden times. The high dormancy in seeds ensured that these could be stored for long, sometimes for decades. In Bastar Shodhyatra, we had seen such millet seed stored with a few tribal families. In Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat also, it is not unheard that farmers have viable seeds for five to ten years. However, most modern varieties have poorer storability. In fact, many hybrid sorghums have very short shelf-life. The implication is that public procurement programmes do not procure and distribute such crops and varieties under public distribution system. The climate fluctuations are going to increase in years to come because of large scale ecological disturbances, some of which seem irreversible such as glacial melting. There are many changes which ordinary people can expect in their life. The behavior of pathogen may change, our immunity may go down and in general morbidity may increase. It will affect people not covered by health insurance much more severely.
As on date, India has less than twenty per cent population covered by any kind of health insurance. This should be one of the top priorities for policy makers. Every person below poverty line must be covered by a reasonable health insurance [say upto five lacs of hospitalization expenses]. Recent announcement on the subject is a good step but does not do enough justice.
The second implication of climate fluctuation would be on agriculture itself. Higher the fluctuation greater will be the variability in the production of oil seeds, pulses, millets, etc., grown largely in rain fed region. With increase in the fluctuations in yield, nutritional security will further decline. Even in some of the economically developed states, almost 50 per cent of infants are malnourished. This situation could become worse if this problem is not tackled through imaginative policies. The role of school teachers federation and panchayat is going to be very critical. There has been considerable improvement in the enrolment and retention of children in the school. However, as climate induced uncertainty increases, the fluctuation in the school attendance may increase because of diversion of children towards farm and non-farm work. With the increase in migration of young people to urban areas, this problem may become worse. Large scale custom hiring centres for farm machinery in such regions will be needed urgently. Lesser the turnaround time, higher is the need for suitable mechanization.
Recently, in her doctoral work, Anamika Dey found these and many other features of climate fluctuations in eastern Indian villages. The traditional varieties or traditionally improved varieties still score much higher in the high risk, such as flood prone low lying areas of paddy growing villages. She also found that lack of community paddy nursery affected the coping capability adversely in the case of small farmers, particularly women. Therefore, availability of diversified community nurseries may be another important policy goal. Her study further showed that exchange of companion plants i.e., so-called weeds contributed significantly to meet the needs of nutritional deficit in human and animal feeds. A systematic study of nutritional potential of weeds is in order.
The climate fluctuation also offers an opportunity as evident from her study. She reviewed many studies in which increase in CO2 concentration, the grain quality may go down even if yield doesn’t.
We need to evaluate the implications of climate fluctuation for people with varying level of immunity, vulnerability to different diseases and ability to get proper health coverage. Similarly, the workers in the industrial sector will be affected by the fluctuation no less and their ability to insulate themselves is also limited. If the sickness induced absence from work increases, wage income decreases, than it will have direct impact on the education of their children and their quality of life. The reduction in the carbon intensity is in our interest. With US government retreating on this account, Indian government must take a bold initiative to reduce carbon intensity in our economy and insulate our people from the adverse impacts of climate fluctuation at an unprecedented scale. Will love to hear some creative solutions from readers, such as making ink out of carbon collected from air or reviving many short duration traditional crops, and promoting urban farming.
The educational institutions may take up region specific studies on the possible impacts so that large scale stimulation model is developed to find out direct impact of fluctuations of different degrees on different sectors and sections of society.