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In India, A Food Shortage That Could Lead To A Civil War Is Just Waiting To Happen, Unless…

Posted on April 30, 2015 in Environment

By Mrinalini Shinde

As people across India are taking stock of the tragedy that has struck Nepal and Bihar, an issue to be noted is that rescue efforts in Bihar are being severely hampered by cyclonic rainfall. India has faced a spate of unseasonal, cyclonic rain over the past couple of months. A few days ago, 42 people were killed and over a hundred injured by cyclonic rainfall in the Seemanchal belt of Bihar, where the maize crop suffered extensive damage. Hailstorms in North India, and heavy rains in Maharashtra have caused extensive damage to both food and cash crops. A couple of days ago, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in Pakistan suffered extensive loss of life, property and crops due to cyclonic rains. Not to mention that the Kashmir valley was flooded again, a second time this year recently.

ruined farmland
Photo Credit: Joel Carranza


The above summary is not to spin a tale of doom, but to emphasise the point that climatic trends in the country are changing faster, and with greater consequence than ever before, and agriculture is going to be most severely affected by these changes. We cannot sustain any idea of a developed economy when our crops fail and there is no food to put on the table.

The rise in hurricanes, cyclones and overall erratic rainfall is directly linked to increasing global carbon emissions. These events occur in low pressure systems; low pressure is created by excess heat in the atmosphere, and as we are aware, massive increase in the burning of fossil fuels has contributed enormously to overall heating of the atmosphere. A recent study in ‘Nature Climate Change‘ has made a direct correlation between the rise in extreme weather and the escalation of the industrial revolution.

As we experience on almost a daily basis now, unprecedented climate events are taking a heavy toll on the productivity of our farms. In a country already riddled with widespread poverty, farmer suicides, and decreasing farmland owed to active land acquisition, destruction of crops through extreme weather would severely dent the nation’s food security. Lack of food results in increased migration and civil strife, and our urban infrastructure is incapable of dealing with a famine induced exodus. The Arab Spring was born when people were hungry. With the pre-existing social conflicts in India, the potential for a food related civil war cannot be ruled out.

In December this year, state parties will come together in Paris to agree on a binding climate treaty. Before the talks, countries are expected to release their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions), outlining the steps that they intend to take for climate action post 2020. It is imperative that India, as a leader amongst emerging economies, takes a firm stance in favour of dramatically cutting down its carbon emission. It needs to emphasise its willingness to shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy in order to contribute heavily towards containing global warming and its consequences.

India cannot afford to spend its foreign exchange reserves importing food while simultaneously chasing dreams of being an economic superpower. We are only as strong at the global negotiating table as the amount of food and water we can provide to our citizens. The quest for all other resources is secondary. India’s INDC must reflect these priorities, and ensure that the farmer is at the top of the food chain; not its victim.