Print Edition - 2014-07-11 | Oped
london calling: Raining risks
- Issuing timely warnings and providing possible help to farmers are especially important during an El Nino year like this one
Jul 10, 2014-
That the monsoon this year could be affected by El Nino, the warming of the western Pacific Ocean waters affecting weather patterns worldwide, was known well beforehand. Many countries, therefore, have braced up in whatever way
Farmers in Indonesia now have a calendar for early planting dates. Their government is also helping them with techniques and equipment to plant certain crops sooner. In Malaysia, underground and recycled water is being encouraged for use so that the deficit the drought might cause can be dealt with. You may have floods as an immediate image for the Philippines but because of a possible drought due to El Nino’s effects, the Philippine government has even begun cloud seeding and has given farmers drought tolerant varieties of rice. In Thailand, similar efforts are afoot.
Nepal’s immediate neighbour, India, too has embarked on a multi-pronged strategy: the Indian government is preparing to release more rice and wheat from its stocks to keep prices from going through the roof. New Delhi will also provide seed varieties that can cope with dry conditions and fund state governments if need be.
So, the question now is: what has the government in Nepal done? As of this writing, the South Asian monsoon was not normal. The Indian Meteorological Department showed that Indian states bordering Nepal were not receiving adequate rainfall. West Bengal, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India had seen scattered rain or remained mostly dry. Monsoonal showers in June were the weakest in India’s in its past one-century record.
It is, however, too early to say that the monsoon is weak. The region might be lashed by rains and may even be flooded in the coming monsoon months. But what we are talking about here is taking precautions before a below-average rainfall fails farmers. After all, agriculture is still the mainstay of the Nepali economy.
And yet, Nepali farmers have not received any caution or advice from authorities; forget about aid like drought-resistant seeds or technology to cope with dry conditions. Like many other sectors, this, too, is where governance is sorely missing.
But, this is not just about the government in Singha Durbar. Being climate resilient is now a global agenda being persistently pushed by the donor community. Millions of dollars are pouring in to “help climatically vulnerable communities to adapt to such weather anomalies.” This is not to suggest that the forecasted below-average monsoon rainfall this time is climate change—the El Nino phenomenon happens regardless and its effects are felt worldwide at varying intervals. But this also does not mean that the money that comes in for climate adaptation should be spent only when there is a global consensus on which weather event is the result of climate change and which is not.
The debate will go on. And so will the series of events of weird weather patterns. Scientists have said that under the changing climate, events like El Nino or its reverse, La Nina, will happen more often. The latest report by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change said that oceans are becoming more acidic because of a rapid increase in the amount of carbon dioxide gas they suck
in from the atmosphere. The carbon concentration in the atmosphere has now reached 400 parts per million, which is already a dangerous level. If it goes further up, scientists say, the world will become more than two degrees warmer from what it was before the industrial period and that could lead to runaway climate change.
So, while the world goes nowhere when it comes to cutting carbon emissions and the weather continues to become more and more strange, how to assist vulnerable communities cope with these changes becomes the key question. Issuing timely warnings and providing whatever possible help to them during an El Nino year like this could be a good rehearsal.
There have been some success stories during floods. Last year, for instance, huge flood-induced loss of lives and property was avoided in the Karnali basin because of the effective use of mobile phone devices for timely alerts. If that idea is replicated in other river basins as well, damages from floods can be minimised significantly. To do all this at the national level, adaptation plans will have to be made and implemented genuinely.
There is no dearth of documents on the planning shelves of the government ministries. Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Nepal has already prepared the National Adaptation Program of Action (NAPA), followed by the Local Adaptation Program of Action (LAPA), and now, the National Adaptation Plans. Add to that other donor programmes like the pilot project on climate resilience.
From the pages of these voluminous documents, plans and programmes must reach vulnerable communities. If not with cash and technology, they can at least
be helped with knowledge and timely warning. The good news is, Nepal has a strong community radio presence and that can be very effective for information
But has this asset been recognised by all those high-sounding adaptation plans and programmes? If it had, farmers this year would have already had a calendar for different planting dates.
- Khadka is a BBC journalist based in London
Published: 11-07-2014 09:22