Friday, April 06, 2007

Our Global Warming fears

In India, weather-related natural disasters already cause annual chaos.

Two months ago, whole regions of West Bengal disappeared under water - rescue workers had to use boats to give emergency help to more than 16 million affected people.

These were the worst floods for more than 20 years. Several factors were blamed - from silted riverbeds to mismanagement of resources. But could global warming also have played a part?
Journalist Nirmal Ghosh firmly believes global warming is going to cause far more chaos across India in the future.

"Global warming is going to make other small local environmental issues... seem like peanuts, because it is the big one which is going to come and completely change the face of the Earth.
"We're talking about mass migrations because of changing weather. That will have implications on politics. There are states in India which are fighting court cases over water," Mr Ghosh says.

Shrinking glaciers

As well as floods, India also suffers acute water shortages - earlier this year the western state of Rajasthan was struck by drought. Nirmal Ghosh says the steady shrinking of Himalayan glaciers means the entire water system is being disrupted - global warming, he says, will cause even greater extremes"Statistically, it is proven that the Himalayan glaciers are actually shrinking, and within 50 to 60 years they will virtually run out of producing the water levels that we are seeing now.

"This will cut down drastically the water available downstream, and in agricultural economies like the plains of UP (Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar, which are poor places to begin with. This is probably going to, over a short period of time, cause tremendous social upheaval," he says. Not everyone agrees. Some scientists say the glaciers have been shrinking for decades and other factors are to blame.

Certainly, India has a long history of extreme weather patterns - and extremes of temperature across the continent. So is it too simplistic to blame global warming just because recent floods and droughts have been acute?

West blamed

Dr RR Kelkar, the director general of the Indian meteorological department, says it is too early for accurate data to be available yet.
"India is a tropical country, we must remember that. We are used to hot environments, we are used to heavy rains, we are used to cyclones, and really there is no clear statistically significant trend that things are going to change drastically.

There is a need now for scientists to probe into them and find out how they will be affecting us - but one of the problems is that these models are sometimes converted into scary stories which is something we shouldn't fall for," Dr Kelkar says.

Scary stories or not, there are also concerns that knowledge being gathered about the impact of global warming is controlled by the West. Scientists in the subcontinent do not always have the resources available to challenge data being compiled by developed countries. Professor SK Sinha is a specialist at the water technology centre at the Pusa Institute. He accuses the West, and in particular the United States, of manipulating the debate.

"They make the rules. In fact, they even lure people from the developing countries to substantiate or to confirm that data, not necessarily always with very valid equipments and arguments," he says.

Cyclones, floods and droughts aren't in themselves new - but how much is global warming likely to worsen them, and how far will countries like India be able to influence the global debate?


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