Warning signals in State of India’s Environment 2024 - GulfToday

Warning signals in State of India’s Environment 2024

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Labourers cool off at a construction site in Ahmedabad, India. File/Reuters

Labourers cool off at a construction site in Ahmedabad, India. File/Reuters

The 2024 State of India’s Environment (SOE 2024) report was recently released by the Centre for Science and Environment’s (CSE). The report is collated and published annually by Down To Earth magazine.

The CSE press release on the occasion states that the year 2023 has been the warmest year on record in the history of the Earth – 1.48 degrees warmer than the 1850-1900 period (pre-industrial average); the year also had the highest number of days with global mean temperatures above 1.5oC.

Among a range of data and statistics, the report presents data that about 109 nations suffered losses due to extreme weather events in 2023, with countries in Africa, Europe and West Asia taking up the lion’s share: 59 countries in this region were impacted and the highest number of deaths from these events happened in this region. Indonesia had the maximum number of affected people (almost 19 million), while Libya suffered the most deaths.

The report also warns that between 2013 and 2022, the Himalayan region in India accounted for 44% of all the disasters reported in the country. Floods, landslides and thunderstorms – 192 in all — constituted the bulk of these incidents. In fact, the cloudbursts and torrential rains experienced in the region in 2023 are curtain-raisers to a future that is already upon us and will become more pronounced with every passing year.

The worst long-term and relentless damage is being seen in the upper reaches of the Himalayas, according to SOE2024. The rise in average surface temperatures in the Himalayas is causing glaciers to melt rapidly and retreat at an accelerating rate. The Hindu Kush Himalayas has seen a 65% faster loss of glacier mass, according to a study by the Nepal-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). During 2010-19, glaciers in the region lost a mass of 0.28 metre of water equivalent per year (m we) in comparison to 0.17 m we per year in the period 2000-09. The Karakoram Range, which was known to be stable, has also started showing a decline in glacier mass, losing 0.09 m we per year during 2010-19. 

In India, 2023 saw its warmest ever August and September in 122 years. Through the year, the country witnessed an extreme weather event almost every day — over the 365 days between January 1 and December 31, such events happened on 318 days. They claimed 3287 human lives, affected 2.21 million hectare of crop area, damaged 86,432 houses and caused 124,813 animal deaths. All 36 states and union territories were affected. Himachal Pradesh recorded the highest number of extreme weather events, with 149 days, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 141 days. Kerala and Uttar Pradesh were next with 119 days each.

In terms of events, the report says the break-up was heavy rains, floods and landslides: 208 days; lightning and storms: 202 days; heatwaves: 49 days; cold waves: 29 days; cloudbursts: 9 days; snowfall: 5 days; and cyclones: 2 days. Bihar was the biggest sufferer in terms of deaths — 642 people lost their lives to extreme weather incidents. The largest expanse of affected crop area was in Haryana. Gujarat had the highest number of damaged houses, and Punjab accounted for the maximum number of animal deaths.   

The ice-melt from the Himalayan glaciers is also forming glacial lakes across the Himalayan range, the report warns again. The number of such lakes in Uttarakhand and east of Himachal Pradesh has increased from 127 in 2005 to 365 in 2015. The increasing frequency and ferocity of cloudbursts is causing these lakes to overflow or burst their banks and cause havoc downstream.

Overall, the Himalayas have already lost more than 40% of their ice and are likely to lose up to 75% by the end of this century. This is making the vegetation line in the Himalayas shift upwards at the rate of 11 to 54 m per decade. With 90% of Himalayan agriculture being rainfed, this will make it impossible to sustain the livelihoods of the people who now inhabit the Himalayan region and endanger the lives of those in the plains who depend on its waters.  The loss of permafrost can also lead to infrastructure damage.


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