Extreme climate events and operationalization of India’s climate policy

CIENS/NIBR research presented at global meeting in Delhi (DSDS), February 2014

By Trond Vedeld

India in the global sustainability dialogue
The ambitious 14th Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS 2014) on “Attaining Energy, Water, and Food Security for All” (February 5–8, 2014) suggests that India has acquired a key position in the “global dialogue” on sustainable development. DSDS is “the most important global meeting held annually to deal with issues of sustainable development” according to R. K. Pachauri, the head of the UN IPCC and director of Teri which organizes the Summit (Teri = The Energy and Resource Institute).

This year’s Summit had special significance because of the current UN process of setting global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2015 – and arriving at global agreements on climate change towards Paris in 2015.
Photo: Guro Aandahl

Overall, the DSDS is a strong reminder that the challenge of climate change promotes innovative thinking, new partnerships and new opportunities for development. The Summit was able to attract many key stakeholders, including several former heads of states and government ministers across the world, corporate business, international development finance, the UN, research and civil society.

Kofi Annan in his opening speech emphasized the fact that millions across the world were still without access to energy, while a growing global middle class continued their exploitation of “common” scarce resources. In his concluding speech, John Gummer, M, UK highlighted the important manifestations of climate change from country cases presented from across the globe on extreme climate events, such as floods and droughts, e.g. from the Seychelles, Buthan, Mongolia, Myamar, Mexico, UK, India and others.

Research on extreme risks and Community-based Adaptation (CBA)
During the Summit, apart from being participants throughout the four days, we presented the first results from our CIENS and NIBR led research project funded by the Norwegian Embassy in India “Extreme Risks, Vulnerabilities and Community-based Adaptation in India (EVA): A Pilot Study” (2012–2014).

The project is a collaboration between five partners; TERI, AFPRO, CICERO, NIVA and NIBR. The scope of this research project, with field work in Maharashtra, has been inspired by the UN Special Report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation (SREX).

The project findings were presented in a side event organized in response to the long-term Indo-Norwegian collaboration on climate change and sustainable development supported by Norway and the Embassy of Norway in India. The event was opened by Dr. Pachauri and Mr. Lars Andreas Lunde, Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment, both referring to Norway’s strong support of DSDS and Teri over several years. The Norwegian Embassy was also represented in the event with Ambassador Eivind S. Homme.

Drought and extreme risks in Jalna, Maharasthra
The unfortunate drought of 2012 in Maharashtra; the worst drought in 40 years, had given us as researchers the possibility to follow the consequences of an extreme event – before, during and after – and an opportunity to think afresh about the responses and capacity to withstand possible future extreme climate risks at district and local village levels. While such a disaster will always bring hardship to local people, it also exposes systemic and institutional strengths and weaknesses, and thus offers opportunities for change and innovation.
Photo: Trond Vedeld

Booklet: Drought in Jalna – Community-based Adaptation to Extreme Climate Events in Maharashtra

Trond Vedeld’s presentation at the conference (PDF)

The EVA project has over a period of two years investigated the consequences of extreme risks (drought) and the local impacts on agriculture, water resources and livelihoods in village communities of Jalna District of Maharashtra. The focus has been on understanding how local communities responded before, during and after the drought and were able to withstand the impacts of such an extreme event. The field work was carried out in nine villages in the Jalna District of the monsoon shadow belt of India among relatively poor dryland cotton farmers in Northern Maharashtra. By studying local impacts and perspectives on adaptation across villages and social groups, we reveal some of the enabling and constraining factors for Community-based Adaptation (CBA). In this regard, the project brings out how the government of India at state and district levels mobilizes and coordinates relief efforts, and how the drought emergency system is linked to more long-term risk management and development programs. To this end, the project provides insight into how India operationalizes climate risk management policies from central via state to the local levels.

Key preliminary findings on Community-based Adaptation
A key finding from our interviews with decision makers and participatory research in the nine villages is that local communities were basically not prepared to tackle the severe impacts of such an extreme drought, which lasted well into 2013. Even the better endowed village communities in terms of developed watersheds, agricultural land and access to water from local wells faced hardships. Hence, this means that communities, at present level of resilience, will depend on outside safety nets or assistance to cope with extreme drought. While full resilience to such an extreme event cannot really be expected, we also find that there is clearly scope for many improvements in local climate risk management and governance at multiple levels.

The 2012 drought had severe impacts on water, crops, livestock and people in the district of Jalna. At the same time it mobilized major relief efforts on the part of the state and district government, as well as support from civil society and other local actors. Rainfall was only between 25–50% of normal rainfall.

Hardships were dampened, however, due to many farmers having stored grains or possessed other income sources from earlier good years (2011 was a good rainfall year). The drought did not lead to the massive hardships that were seen in the drought of 1972 (or earlier), reflecting improvements in resilience along several dimensions. Impacts varied a lot, however, from one village and social group to another, reflecting variation in adaptive capacity as well as variation in rainfall across space.

The drought manifested itself first of all in water scarcity. Drinking water and water for livestock quickly became a key concern as the rains failed. Wells went dry. Fodder for animals became scarce. Water for irrigation was prioritized to cash crops. However, irrigation water was grossly inadequate across all villages and most farmers – both for the monsoon cash crops and the winter food/fodder crops. Crop and income losses of more than 50% were experienced by many farmers.

Local authorities launched a massive relief operation at high costs to the government. Water tankers were provided for drinking water to most villages. Fodder was made available in cattle camps. Employment schemes were provided. Crop rescue schemes were launched and crop compensation provided. The emergency operations were significant across different sectors, yet not always so well coordinated across different actors (public and private) and at village levels. People tended to claim that the relief was often delayed or was not sufficient and payments came late. For example, there existed no early warning system for drought linked to a district drought contingency plan with the district authorities, although the district administration possessed long-term experience with drought risk management, and fairly quickly mounted a significant operation with important positive impacts. ‘While the government did the right things, the scale and outreach and timing was not always according to local needs and demands’, according to one observer from civil society. Hence, there is scope for improvements in drought risk management on behalf of the government – as well as on the side of the private agricultural sector – which engaged in smaller operations only (e.g. provision of water tanks). NGOs seemed to be more substantially involved in relief measures at different levels.
Photo: Guro Aandahl

Some key policy implications
Our findings suggest that if stronger CBA is to become a reality in Jalna, there is a need for much more efficient local climate risk management, improved water and environmental governance; the farmers need to see more crops per drop of water; policy gaps and equity issues need to be addressed; and both incremental and transformative change needs to take place. Our presentation at DSDS emphasized the need to reinforce three key policy and governance areas as critical for improving CBA:
• Shift in policy emphasis from relief to long-term climate risk management
• Shift locus from district to village panchayat levels – also to deal with access and equity issues
• Strengthen coordination, cooperation across the public-private divide, and convergence between sectors and actors involved in climate risk management, watershed/dryland farming, and sustainable development

More efficient CBA among local villagers seems to require a stronger and more long-term focus in climate risk management and more innovative and coordinated climate services.

Operationalizing India’s adaptation policy through climate services

The EVA project suggests that more research is required to understand how India operationalizes climate change policies from national to local levels with a particular focus on coordinated climate services. While climate services in Maharashtra have improved considerably over the last few years, for example, with better weather information, there is a need to better understand the interface between the various service providers and the diverse users of weather/climate information and how best climate services can operate to promote improved weather and monsoon forecasting combined with systems of early warning, contingency planning, water budgeting, weather index insurance for farmers, and improved social safety nets.

Capacity building of leaders: risk management everybody’s business
It is critical that climate risk management becomes everybody’s business. Hence, there is a need for capacity building of leaders of government agencies for them to work more systematically on risk awareness and risk management within respective agencies and in closer partnerships and dialogue with private business and civil society through governance networks. It is also important to better understand how capacity building can be reinforced at the local level through partnerships between government, private business and civil society. This should probably be done with a focus on progressive farmers, landless and women through mutual learning and gender focussed capacity development.
Photo: Guro Aandahl

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