Global warming: a serious drought in India

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Global warming is an insidious and unpredictable phenomenon. Its effects can strike without warning and be potentially devastating – in likely causing prolonged drought, for example. The spotlight was recently on California’s severe five-year drought. Timely rains have recently provided some relief to residents of this US state. But now the spotlight has turned to India, which over the past two years has suffered from a drought of almost unprecedented severity.

The monsoon, which generally fills up wells between July and September, in 2015 provided just 400mm of precipitation to the region, three times lower than normal. One quarter of the population – 330 million people – lack water. In some parts of India, such as Maharashtra, the authorities have been sending trainloads of water cisterns to the people hardest hit. These rescue measures reflect just how dangerous the situation is.

It goes without saying that without water there is no life

People cannot survive more than three days without drinking; without water, there is no human activity, no agriculture and no industry. It is in such extreme conditions that we become aware of the simple fact that water means life.

After the devastatingly over-powerful monsoons of recent years – almost surely another outcome of global warming – the current drought has wrecked farm output yet again. Famine is a threat and many heavily-indebted farmers can no longer meet their loan payments; some choose suicide to escape public shame. The human impact of this extreme weather is exacerbated by the endemic corruption that is reputed to paralyse much of India’s state-level administration. There are allegations that aid money is embezzled and does not reach the populations it was meant for.

The drought’s destructive power is aggravated by some debatable economic choices in the past

For example, Karnataka, which regularly has water shortages, is rendered even more vulnerable by contract farming and increased output of water-intensive export crops. For context, it should be borne in mind that India is the world’s second-largest producer of rice, wheat and sugar cane and the world’s largest cotton grower.

According to climatologists working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in both India and California, these recent weather conditions could become endemic. Climate is changing steadily and implacably, with longer and longer droughts alternating with short respites that cruelly raise hopes of sustained or even permanent relief. It is possible to adapt and manage water shortages, though, as seen in the conclusive experiments conducted in Israel and Singapore. Here is a surprising but accurate figure: in Israel, 80% of sewage water is recycled and, after being treated, is used in farm irrigation drinking water adduction systems.

Keep in mind, however, that huge investments are needed to deliver such adaptive innovations

All countries concerned, both developed and emerging, will have to devote considerable sums to the productive investments that are already planned so that ordinary citizens, farmers and manufacturers can maintain access to water. People’s, farmers’ and industries’ long-term survival is at stake. Some of them may believe that they will be spared, but in our view, such complacency would be naive.

It is precisely in companies that are helping to resolve water access problems worldwide that BNP Paribas Asset Management’ Aqua and Climate Impact strategies invest.

Alexandre Jeanblanc

Investment Specialist, SRI

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