The Nexus of Climate Change and Development

Ukhrul district of Manipur receives an annual rainfall of 1700mm which makes it one of the wettest districts. But every winter there is scarcity of drinking water.

Climate change in the present times is being jargonised and represented in every sphere of international and national dialogues and platforms. We have been constantly hearing of alarming and apocalyptic news related to it such as the infamous melting of the Arctic glaciers, rise in sea level, and temperature across the earth. It has even become a fancy idea of attention for young and liberal minds mediated through famous campaigns and climate activisms such as the Fridays for Future and Greta Thunberg being the convenient face of the movement.

The populism of climate change has unintentionally reduced the issue as one that can be solved just by planting trees or going vegan or for that matter shifting from plastic to bamboo toothbrushes! These are few of the handful ‘make us feel good’ practices that many big organisations and tabloids have been promoting. Adopting sustainable lifestyle definitely is required at individual level but the impact of global climate change that is to come is much more invasive and there are a number of underlying issues that are more important and pressing. To counter the impact of climate change we need to see it in the light of political negotiations, developmental decision making and livelihood strategies.

Bringing the context to rural mountain communities the impacts of climate change in the mountains are found to be much more due to its fragile and sensitive ecosystem.  Manipur is one such state where 90 percent of the land area comes under hilly region. Study shows that vulnerability to climate change is much higher in the hilly districts due to its geophysical reasons and poor infrastructure and connectivity. Besides, more than 50 percent of our economy is dependent on agricultural domain which coincidentally is also one of the most climate sensitive sectors.

A climate projection done by IISC Bangalore suggests that Manipur in the last 10 years have seen an increase in extreme climate events (unusual, severe or unseasonal weather) related to rain and temperature such as flash floods, heat waves and erratic monsoons.  It also shows that the state will witness an increase in rainfall by 20 per cent and temperature by 1.7 degree Celsius by 2050. One may wonder what these numbers signify. It only means that extreme events related disaster such as floods, landslides and droughts are likely to be more frequent in the coming years. We have been witnessing many such events in the past few weeks and how connectivity of many significant highways and bridges were badly affected besides physical devastation. The reason may also include anthropogenic factors such as unsustainable land use system but the climatic factor cannot be ruled out either. 

So then how do we respond to this critical issue? There is a two thronged approach to respond to climate change – adaptation to its impacts and mitigation to reduce the rate and magnitude of change. While mitigation means to reduce our carbon footprint by increasing forest cover and shifting to cleaner energy, but it has little to do with small rural communities. So the key is to locally adapt to these changes. For this, we need to assess the adaptive capacity of our communities which is deeply related to the socio-economic development of the community. While assessing it sector wise, agriculture and water comes at the forefront. Questions around water security need to be asked not just in terms of irrigation for agriculture but also in terms of drinking water.

Say for example, Ukhrul district of Manipur receives an annual rainfall of 1700mm which makes it one of the wettest districts. But every winter there is scarcity of drinking water. Also, how resilient and secure is our agricultural system? If crop fails due to climate factors do we have enough diversification opportunities of livelihood other than agriculture? Talk about the density of roads which decides the connectivity of rural areas to market and government extension services. These factors decide the adaptive capacity of a community in any circumstances. The functionality of healthcare system and sanitation is also one major climate sensitive sector since variability in temperature and rain  enhances vector borne, water or air borne diseases. Most importantly, in the forest sector,  given the unique land holding systems of the hills districts the health and well-being of our forest depends a lot on the local management of natural resources and how well do the village republic govern the ‘commons’.

To make sense of the entire range of problems discussed above we are required to go back to the existing developmental structure and planning authorities of the state machinery. Every state of the country has a compass document called State Action Plan for Climate Change (SAPCC) which directs the concern authorities to create and implement climate change mitigation and adaptation plans. Manipur also has a comprehensive one and funds have been allocated for different state missions but most stakeholders are not aware of such existence.

There is a dire need of massive awareness about the action plans and involvement from non-governmental bodies to enhance collaborative interventions. Local authorities and civil societies must also prioritise and push themselves to be in the radar of policy making so that climate action benefits and services do not concentrate only in few targeted pockets. But at large, the state must make sure that these plans are implemented contextually and monitored thoroughly. To sum up, we have to start engaging and talking about climate change at the local level as a developmental issue, as a livelihood problem and as a gender issue.

Without political willingness, inclusive law making and contextual sustainable developmental strategies the yearly regime of planting ‘n’ numbers of trees on World Environment Day probably won’t solve the problem.

Chanthingla Horam is pursuing Ph.D. in Climate Studies at IIT Bombay

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