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5,000 Missing in India Floods: Scientists Say Global Warming is to Blame

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Flood damaged road alongside the River Alaknanda in Chamoli district in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand (Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Images)As floods and landslides slam the Indian state of Uttarakhand, where 5,000 are missing and 600 are confirmed dead, scientists warn that India is seeing the effects of a global warming crisis that will only worsen as greenhouse gases rise.

Heavy monsoon rains set off dangerous flash floods that tore through over 100 towns, ripping up infrastructure, bursting dams, shattering bridges, and destroying homes.

The lucky who survived now find themselves without homes to return to. According to India's Home Minister, 34,000 have been evacuated and 50,000 are stranded in the state. Many of those hardest hit were Hindu pilgrims visiting holy sites in the state.

The AP shares eyewitness accounts:

Jasveer Kaur, a 50-year-old housewife, said she and her family survived by taking shelter in a Sikh shrine, which withstood the flood, located in Govind Dham.

"There was destruction all around," said Kaur after she was evacuated by an air force helicopter. "It was a nightmare."

India's government says it has unleashed efforts to recover bodies from the wreckage, deliver food to the disaster areas, and evacuate people from dangerous areas, including a deployment of India's Air Force. Yet, some protested government efforts as inadequate, the AP reports:

Hundreds of people looking for relatives demonstrated in Dehradun, the Uttrakhand state capital, where flood survivors were taken by helicopters. They complained that the government was taking too long to evacuate the survivors, with small helicopters bringing in four to five people at a time.

Studies point to climate change as the culprit behind increasingly deadly floods in India.

India's monsoon season in the late summer and early fall typically brings in 80% of the country's rain. Yet, a study in the Geophysical Research Letters found that greenhouse gases are causing India's rainy season to become increasingly variable and unpredictable, with periods of flood followed by sudden bursts of rain, unleashing deadly flashfloods. 

This is not the only study sounding the alarm. The Hindu reports:

A study by scientists at the National Atmospheric Research Laboratory, Tirupati, showed a six per cent increase in the frequency of very heavy rain events in India over 1901-2004. The more recent period 1951-2004 shows a 14.5 per cent rise per decade. They lay this at global warming’s door: the study talked of a “coherent relationship” between the increasing trend of extreme rainfall events in the last five decades and the increasing trend of Indian Ocean sea surface temperature

Even the World Bank acknowledges that climate change means widespread devastation, particularly for the people of Africa and Asia. The World Bank warns that in South Asia, global warming will bring:

Inconsistences in the monsoon season and unusual heat extremes will affect crops. Loss of snow melt from the Himalayas will reduce the flow of water into the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra basins. Together, they threaten to leave hundreds of millions of people without enough water, food, or access to reliable energy.

Le Monde reports that India is already bearing the burden of climbing global greenhouse gases:

In 2012, out of the millions of people displaced by natural disasters around the world, over a quarter were from northeast India. Almost nine million inhabitants were forced to flee the region's devastating monsoon.

As Aura Bogado points out, climate change disasters put people in the Global South at greatest risk for similar deadly disasters:

The Global North holds about 15 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for the accumulation of about 70 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, which made possible the fact that it owns 80 percent of the world’s wealth. The Global South? It’s got about 85 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for about 30 percent of historical emissions, and holds just 20 percent of the world’s wealth.

Activists insist the human rights and environmental emergency requires immediate action:

"India cannot afford the world to move to 40 degrees Celsius warming. The floods in northern India and the drought in Maharashtra are reminders that the very lifeline of our monsoon is under threat," said Vinuta Gopal, climate and energy campaign manager of Greenpeace.

Authorities, struggling to provide aid after devastating floods, need more boats and rescuers to help hundreds of thousands of people still marooned in remote villages (Photo: REUTERS)

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