More than 80% Indians live in climate vulnerable districts: Report

Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar are most vulnerable to extreme events like floods, droughts, and cyclones, according to CEEW’s Climate Vulnerability Index

By Editorial Team / Oct 28, 2021

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Photo: BBC

Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Bihar are most vulnerable to extreme events like floods, droughts, and cyclones, according to CEEW’s Climate Vulnerability Index

As the world gathers in Glasgow to attend COP26, one of the most crucial issues for the climate talks will be to get developed countries to deliver on climate finance. For a country like India, these commitments by developed countries are even more crucial considering its vulnerability to extreme climate events.

According to a first-of-its-kind Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) released by environmental think-tank Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW), more than 80% of Indians live in climate-vulnerable districts, while states like Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Bihar are most vulnerable to extreme events like floods, droughts, and cyclones.

Dhemaji and Nagaon in Assam, Khammam in Telangana, Gajapati in Odisha, Vizianagaram in Andhra Pradesh, Sangli in Maharashtra, and Chennai in Tamil Nadu are among India’s most climate-vulnerable districts, it stated.

The report titled, ‘Mapping India’s Climate Vulnerability’, revealed that 27 of 35 states and UTs are highly vulnerable to extreme climate events. It further highlighted that while the western and central zones are more vulnerable to drought-like conditions, the northern and northeastern zones are more vulnerable to extreme flood events. Additionally, the eastern and southern zones are becoming extremely prone to cyclones, floods and droughts combined.

The study, supported by the India Climate Collaborative and Edelgive Foundation, found that 463 out of 640 districts in India are vulnerable to extreme floods, droughts, and cyclones. More than 45% of these districts have undergone unsustainable landscape and infrastructure changes, it noted. Further, 183 hotspot districts are highly vulnerable to more than one extreme climate event. 

The CEEW study also found that more than 60% of Indian districts have medium to low adaptive capacity. It also pointed out that only 63% of Indian districts have a District Disaster Management Plan (DDMP). While these plans need to be updated every year, only 32% of them had updated plans until 2019, it noted. However, highly vulnerable states like Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka, and Gujarat have improved their respective DDMPs and climate-proofed critical infrastructure in recent years, it said.

Why does India need a Climate Vulnerability Index?

According to Germanwatch, a German non-profit environmental group, India is the seventh-most vulnerable country with respect to climate extremes. A previous analysis by CEEW suggested that three out of four districts in India are extreme event hotspots, with 40% of the districts exhibiting a swapping trend, which means traditionally flood-prone areas are witnessing more frequent and intense droughts and vice-versa. Further, the IPCC stated that every degree rise in temperature will lead to a 3% increase in precipitation, causing an increased intensification of cyclones and floods. 

The way ahead

In a few days, world leaders will meet in Glasgow to discuss action plans to combat the climate crisis. At COP26, developed countries must regain trust by delivering the $100 billion promised in 2009 and commit to stepping up climate finance over the coming decade, said Arunabha Ghosh, CEO, CEEW. Further, India must collaborate with other countries to create a Global Resilience Reserve Fund, which could act as insurance against climate shocks, he added.

The study recommended developing a high-resolution Climate Risk Atlas to map critical vulnerabilities at the district level and better identify and assess acute risks such as extreme climate events, heat and water stress, crop loss, vector-borne diseases and biodiversity collapse. It also suggested that restoration of climate-sensitive landscapes will act as natural shock absorbers against extreme climate events. Further, integration of climate risk profiling with infrastructure planning is imperative for protecting the existing and planned infrastructure projects. 

Abinash Mohanty, Programme Lead, CEEW, and lead author of the study, said, “The frequency and intensity of extreme climate events in India have increased by almost 200% since 2005. Our policymakers, industry leaders and citizens must use the district-level analysis to make effective risk-informed decisions. Climate-proofing of physical and ecosystem infrastructures should also now become a national imperative. Further, India must create a new Climate Risk Commission to coordinate the environmental de-risking mission.”

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