Meghalaya braces for environment doomsday


From CK Nayak

NEW DELHI: The beautiful hill state of Meghalaya, which means “abode of clouds”, is witnessing erratic rain and rising hot and cold days that may have devastating effects on its environment.
A new study by researchers from Gujarat-based Water and Climate Lab at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar has shown that air temperature in Meghalaya is rising at the rate of 0.031 degree per year. The trend is consistent from 1981 to 2014, barring two years, 1991 and 1992.
This translates into one degree centigrade rise in the same period, which is a significant change. More alarmingly, future projections indicate similar rise over next two decades, the study said.
The study also indicated abnormal change in rainfall pattern in the State. There will be more cloud bursts leading to related disasters like flash floods and landslides.
Meghalaya is also witnessing highly fluctuating frequencies of hot days and nights and cold days and nights. The number of hot days and nights shows an increasing trend while that of cold days and nights a declining trend, the study showed.
“These are indications of a consistently warming region,” said author Dr Vimal Mishra while presenting results of the study commissioned by the Meghalaya government. “The higher number of hot nights is a matter of concern for the State,” he added.
Based on historic and observed data as well as computer models, the study has projected changes over short term (2013-2040), mid-term (2041-2070) and long term (2071-2100) for the State.
It is a high-resolution study and projections have been made for grids of 5X5 km size so as to help in vulnerability assessment for each grid and adaptation planning at the local level.
Most disturbingly, the projections show an increasing temperature rise under different scenarios. Under these projections, the rise in maximum temperature in Meghalaya in the long term ranges from 2.65 degree to 3.8 degree while rise in minimum temperature will be between 2-3.5 degrees in the long term. The increase in temperature may result in higher number of extreme hot days and nights, the study pointed out. Under the extreme scenario projection, the number of hot days could be as high as 100 a year and similarly, there may be a decrease in extreme cold days and nights.
“The State has already seen a rise in temperature of 1 to 1.5 degree in the past three decades and the projections point to a similar rise by 2040,” the study said.
“If temperature in Meghalaya will rise by about 3 degrees in a span of half a century, we don’t know what Meghalaya will be like in future – West Bengal,” Dr Mishra said.
There will be changes in the rainfall pattern too. The central plateau region is projected to experience an increase in rainfall at a higher rate than the rest of the State, the study said.
The occurrence of extreme rainfall events, which is the trend now, will also show an upward trend under various projected scenarios, Dr Mishra said.
“The West Khasi Hills, which already receive very high precipitation, is projected to face even higher rise in precipitation,” he added.
The changing climate in Meghalaya, he said, would have widespread implications for forests, water resources, biodiversity, agriculture, livestock and human health. For instance, due to significant rise in temperature, forest fires may go up while extreme rainfall will increase risk of landslides in high altitude areas causing siltation of water bodies downstream.
The rise in temperature will also threaten endemic plant species many of which are already on the verge of extinction. Rain-fed agriculture in the State will be adversely hit with crop yields and production declining. Higher temperature will also induce premature breaking of insects and pests.
“Some districts in Meghalaya are the most vulnerable to current climate risks and long term climate change in the region,” said Prof NH Ravindranath of Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, during the discussion on the study.
“Sectors like agriculture, forests, fisheries, horticulture are already subjected to high climate risks and will be highly vulnerable to climate change risks in future. We need to prepare both incremental as well as transformational adaptation plans to make based on vulnerability assessments,” the speaker added.
The workshop was jointly organised by the Department of Science and Technology, Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP) and the Centre for Media Studies recently.