I grew up in a small town in India-Patna-beside one of the mightiest river systems in the world, the Ganges. It is hard to describe the sacred place that the river has in Indian daily life. From sprinkling the holy water on a new born baby to putting a few drops into the mouth of someone about to die to dissolving the ashes of the dead into her deep embrace, the Ganges is like a mother to most Indians (literally she is often referred to as Ganga Maiya or Mother Ganges). But she can be a tough disciplinarian as well. Growing up next to her teaches you a profound respect for nature and the havoc she can cause. Patna is the capital of the state of Bihar which is one of the poorest states in India. One of the primary reasons for the poverty of the state is the almost annual havoc caused by the flooding of the Ganges and her tributaries in which thousands of lives and billions of rupees are lost. I remember as a little boy waking up in fear late one night hearing government jeeps warning everyone to get out of the way-the river was about to break over its embankments and flood the town.
The situation has steadily got worse. In 2008 Bihar saw one of the worst floods on living memory. Two million people were stranded, thousands killed and half a million homes were destroyed. This seems to be a part of an unfortunate trend of steadily rising extreme weather events In January 2008 China saw one of the worst snowstorms in history. In Australia early this year unprecedented bushfires killed at least 200 people and causing billions of dollars of damage.
Two billion people were affected by climate related disasters in the 1990s. This rate has doubled in the present decade. While scientists and climate models may disagree with exact pace and magnitude of the variability, there is no doubt that climate change is upon us and is one of the profound development challenges facing humanity. And no matter which climate model you use, they all agree that a one-meter sea level rise over the next century is a given. Hence the need for climate change adaptation-managing the unavoidable consequences of climate variability.
This is a two part series. Part 2 coming soon!