A year when climate change became real
The year that was 2021
For India, 2021 was a year of floods and landslides and erratic monsoon. While neither floods, landslides, nor heavy rains are rare occurrences for Indians, the unprecedented heavy rainfall, the delay in monsoon withdrawal and the increased frequency of low-pressure belts and cyclonic storms over the north Indian Ocean led to the year 2021 being a year for extreme weather events for India. The entire duration of monsoon and beyond was rampant with continuous exercises of evacuation, rescue and relief missions across different parts of India. The frequency and intensity of these events have led experts and environmentalists to alarm caution over the reckless anthropogenic pressures and the need to make amends.
Glacier burst in Chamoli, Uttarakhand in February
The year began with an occurrence that has been one of the most dreaded impacts of climate change by scientists globally - melting glaciers. A glacier burst in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district on February 7 this year caused massive flash floods in Dhauliganga river. Close to 300 people have been said to have died in the flash floods, including several workers working for the Power Plant. The bodies of just 60 people were recovered, while around 200 people are still missing.
The melting of the glacier and its eventual collapse was the immediate cause of the disaster, the scientists have also blamed the relentless developmental activity, especially the construction of huge dams, in the region.
Cyclone Tauktae on West Coast in May
Super cyclone Tauktae, one of the strongest cyclones to have hit India’s coastline, made landfall on Gujarat Coast on May 17. Before hitting the Gujarat coast, the cyclone caused havoc across the states on the west coast like Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra. The category 3 hurricane with wind speed surging as high as 190 kph uprooted several trees, devastated houses and agriculture and killed several in the torrential rains, winds and flash floods that followed. The cyclone killed around 170 people across the country, despite the evacuation as well as rescue and relief efforts by the states. It also affected the electricity and water supply lines in several villages in these states. The increasing frequency of cyclones over India’s west coast, which was earlier an occurrence on the east coast, has caused concern among experts and threatened a lifestyle shift for the people on the west coast.
The increasing frequency of cyclones over India’s west coast, which was earlier an occurrence on the east coast, has caused concern among experts and threatened a lifestyle shift for the people on the west coast.
Cyclone Yaas on East Coast in May
Merely a week after Cyclone Tauktae hit India’s west coast, Cyclone Yaas made landfall in Odisha on May 26. The very severe cyclonic storm forced the evacuation of around 15 lakh people from the coastal areas of Odisha and West Bengal, killing at least nine people. The cyclone also coincided with a high tide causing inundation and floods in coastal areas. Farmlands, homes on the coasts of these states were damaged severely. Apart from these, cyclonic storms Gulaab, Shaheen, Jawad affected lives in India this year.
Heatwave in North India in July
In early July this year, after the monsoon had already begun in the southern parts of the country, heatwaves hit different parts across northern India. The delay in the monsoon winds reaching the northern region was deemed the cause of the heatwave. For the plains, a heatwave is declared when the maximum temperature is more than 40 degrees Celsius and at least 4.5 notches above the normal. The temperature in several hotspots in Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan remain above 40 degrees Celsius.
Excessive rainfall, floods and landslides in Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka in July
At the end of July this year, torrential rains led to floods and landslides in the states of Maharashtra, Goa and Karnataka, disrupting lakhs of lives and livelihoods. Several places in Maharashtra had record rainfall, for example, in the 24 hours between July 22 and 23, Mahabaleshwar received 594mm rainfall, breaking its previous record of the highest rainfall in a single day. Apart from flash floods, another unprecedented occurrence in the state this year was the increased number of landslides. While Maharashtra is a landslide-prone region, extreme rainfall events combined with anthropogenic interventions led to several such events this year. In one of the biggest such incidents, around 37 people were killed in a landslide in Taliye village in Raigad district' Mahad taluka.
In the worst floods in Goa has seen since 1982, around 1,000 houses were damaged and hundreds evacuated in several low-lying parts of Goa during the same periods due to heavy rainfall and flooding of major rivers. The disaster affected transport as well as power systems in the state.
Thousands of people in northern Karnataka were displaced in the month of July due to incessant rainfall over the region for around two weeks. As per the data by the Karnataka State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA), by July 25, as many as 283 villages in 45 taluks were worst affected due to widespread rains which have affected more than 36,498 people.
Impact of Cyclone Gulab in September
In the month of September, Cyclone Gulab formed in the Bay of Bengal hit the east coast of India when it made landfall in Andhra Pradesh on the 26th. Gulab brought about another one of the rarest occurrences that the country saw this year when the cyclonic system continued moving westward across the country emerging into the Arabian Sea, regenerating into a depression, and the restrengthening as another cyclone - Shaheen - by October 1. The cyclonic systems caused damage in several Indian states including Andhra Pradesh where it made landfall, Odisha, Telangana, Maharashtra and Gujarat. At least 20 deaths are known to have been caused by the cyclone in the country.
The effects of the cyclone were felt in Maharashtra's Marathwada region where heavy rainfall and the opening of dam gates led to flooding. This caused devastating damage to agriculture, especially the Soybean crop that was ready for harvest. Parts of south Gujarat were also hit by heavy rains because of Gulab.
Kerala and Uttarakhand floods in October
October 2021 brought floods and landslides in two states in India, two completely opposite regions - Kerala and Uttarakhand. On October 16, the districts of Kottayam, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Alappuzha or Alleppey in Kerala faced extreme rainfall. Several villages submerged due to flash floods, several instances of landslides were reported. Close to 50 people have been reported dead due to the rainfall. It's been four consecutive years since the state has been facing extreme rainfall and flood events. However, this year, the floods occurred after monsoon withdrawal.
Floods and landslides caused around 30 fatalities in Uttarakhand. Over 600 people had to be rescued or evacuated by teams from National (NDFR) and State Disaster Response Forces. Several roads were closed due to landslides cutting many villages off.
Andhra Pradesh-Tamil Nadu floods in November
South India experienced its wettest November since 1901 this year. Tamil Nadu received almost 83 percent surplus rainfall while Andhra Pradesh around 47 percent between October 1 and November 30. This is because of the delayed exit of the southwest monsoon in October and the onset of the northeast monsoon immediately after on October 27. The heavy rainfall in November was caused by the continuing activity of low pressure systems caused in the Bay of Bengal. Chennai was rampaged repeatedly by the rain throughout the month. In Andhra Pradesh, floods triggered by the opening of dam gates killed around 24 people, causing widespread damage.
The report on climate change by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has cautioned that extreme weather events like droughts, heavy rainfall and flash floods are going to increase in India in the coming years, as impacts of global warming and climate change have reached our doorstep now. A report released in August this year also claimed that the proportion of the global population exposed to floods has increased by around 24 percent since the turn of the century and warned that India could bear the maximum brunt of extreme weather events and increasing floods. In fact, as per the above-mentioned report, India was one of the countries where the increase in the proportion of flood-affected people is amongst the highest. 2021 has rung warning bells for the future that everyone needs to take seriously.