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Withering highs (Hindu)

The forecast of a hotter summer must nudge us into preparing to mitigate public distress

The forecast from the India Meteorological Department of above-normal temperatures over much of India in the summer months is bound to bring back memories of last year’s withering weeks. Global weather in recent times has come under pressure from the El Nino warming that began in 2015 and exerted its influence into the first quarter of 2016. What is significant is that the Australian international weather bureau says there is a 50% prospect of a similar phenomenon this year as well, making it a significant alert on hotter temperatures, and possibly a debilitated monsoon and weaker agricultural prospects. The early IMD forecast should help the official machinery to adequately prepare for public distress. A carefully planned school examination schedule could spare students the worst of the torrid season, and this should be among the top priorities. As the temperature edged past 40ºC last year, schools in some States decided to extend their summer vacations by a week or two, something that may become necessary again. Urban water distress poses another challenge, because big cities in several States have not received adequate rainfall to replenish their reservoirs and are using up groundwater at unsustainable rates. For farmers, another harsh period would add to their difficulties, requiring a sensitive approach to their needs. Administrative decisions for summer management will need to be refined on the basis of coming IMD updates, although the overall trend appears to be clear.

Temperatures in different parts of the world may have variations due to local weather phenomena, but as the U.S. space agency NASA has pointed out, there has been a record three-year warming trend, with 2016 the hottest; 16 of 17 warmest years based on globally-averaged temperatures occurred since 2001. The effect of El Nino on the global temperature average is only a small part of the overall rise, indicating that the trend could be correlated with the rise in greenhouse gases. India, a major emitter of GHGs, has classified 2016 as the century’s warmest year, with an increase of 0.91ºC over the long-term average; NASA’s corresponding global figure is 0.99ºC. These are clear signs that the world must shift away from further high-emission pathways in the economy and adopt leapfrogging technologies. It is also a call for policy initiatives to build resilience by improving water harvesting and expanding tree cover, including in cities. For rural India, building surface irrigation facilities such as ponds through the employment guarantee scheme and climate funds would seem a natural choice, while urban water supply augmentation needs more reservoirs to be built. If this year’s forecast comes true, though, there is no escape route. The only hope would be an early date with the monsoon.

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