Chennai: natural calamities

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Climate change

Erratic rainfall: droughts and floods

Karthikeyan Hemalatha, Why calamities stare at Chennai, Updated: Jun 5, 2017,: The Times of India


Chennai has seen a drought, a flood, heavy rains, and winds of epic proportion in the past 2 years

The city is witnessing all symptoms of climate change

The research centre predicts that Chennai's climate will become more unpredictable and aggressive over the coming years

Recently, the world received a rude shock when US president Donald Trump, pulled out of the Paris climate accord+ . Trump might nurture his belief that climate change is a Chinese hoax, but alas, it is not the case because the world has begun facing the brunt of this environmental crisis. Closer home, a stark example is Chennai, which in the past two years has seen a drought, a flood, heavy rains, and winds of epic proportion. The city is witnessing all symptoms of climate change, say scientists and meteorologists. And as the city gets hotter, it is also getting wetter. Chennai received excessive monsoon rainfall between 2004 and 2011 — with some years recording more than 60% of normal rainfall. "This is an unprecedented record, since the weather recording began in 1870," says retired deputy director general of India Meteorological Department (IMD) Y E A Raj. "It's time we studied the effects of urbanisation and its impacts on our climate," he adds.

The burning of coal, diesel and petrol increases carbon level in the atmosphere, which in turn raises the temperature of the sea surface, say scientists. "Increase in carbon emission is directly responsible for the increase in sea surface temperature. While land reflects the heat, the sea absorbs it. When more carbon is released to the atmosphere, the sea traps more heat," says professor A Ramachandran, Anna University's Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research. Rise in sea surface temperature leads to accumulation of more moisture above the sea — the source for monsoon clouds. Chennai is the only city to receive 80% of its annual rainfall from the northeast monsoon, which is short and powerful. "With the increase in sea surface temperature, rains in October, November and December are going to get more and more unpredictable. Rainfall that is spread over 50 days can be expected to pour down in four to 10 days. This could be a reality in 20 years," says Ramachandran.

Based on weather data collected between 1960 and 2000, the research centre predicts that Chennai's climate will become more unpredictable and aggressive over the coming years. Data from India Meteorological Department shows a drastic increase in the number of days during which the maximum temperature crossed 40˚C. While there were only three days in 1990 that breached the 40˚C mark, it shot to 38 in 2012. "What is more worrisome is that even night time temperatures are increasing," says Ramachandran. A report in Tamil Nadu State Action Plan for Climate Change states that Chennai will see a 3˚C increase in temperature by 2100. Activists say climate change and global warming are not realities that are visible overnight. "We need to have specific policies to phase out our dependence on fossil fuels," says Nandikesh Sivalingam, a Greenpeace campaigner for climate change. "The good news is that TN is already one of the leading states when it comes to renewable energy. Energy revolution is happening with solar power becoming cheaper than power from coal."

"We should be more sensible towards land use patterns, protecting our water and green spaces," says environmental activist Nityanand Jayaraman. A report titled "Policy Framework and Preparedness for Implementing Measures to Effectively Deal with Climate Change" by Vasudha Foundation and Heinrich Boll Foundation India found that urban development in TN is prone to vulnerabilities due to frequent impact of extreme events. The report analysed the resilience-level of TN, Karnataka, Goa and Andhra Pradesh to climate change, based on the policy measures recommended by the International Panel on Climate Change and New Climate Economy report. The report, however, pointed out that TN is already a leader in wind energy generation and has "a fairly robust afforestation and reforestation policy".

While the state might have policies on afforestation, implementation is the key. We need a stronger political will to arrest further environmental degradation.

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