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Changing Times and Tides Part 1: The Need for Climate Change Adaptation in Coastal India

The urgency and complexity of the climate change challenge has been globally recognised. As developing countries grapple with the adverse effects of unfavorable climatic stressors, the global community is negotiating to meet the increasing demand for climate finance. This shift in the global conscience has facilitated a conducive environment for mainstreaming climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts, and integrating them firmly into countries’ overall developmental and growth agendas. There is far greater emphasis now on ensuring the climate proofing of development.

To that end, WRI India and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) have partnered to pilot test the climate-proofing of developmental plans in India. Being a premier development bank in India, NABARD is also the National Implementing Entity (NIE) for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and the Adaptation Fund (AF), systematically promoting green investments and climate finance in the country. The Bank’s annual credit plans, or Potentially Linked Plans (PLPs) have been identified as a key area through which climate proofing activities can be incorporated at district levels in the country. Dr. Mashar Velapurath, Deputy General Manager, NABARD Regional Office, Chennai, who has been instrumental in shaping this initiative, describes climate-proofing as “applying a climate lens to investment decisions to insulate them against adverse climatic conditions.” As he rightly stresses, even if we account for all other risks, ignoring climate risks can seriously hinder our developmental ambitions.

The Case of Cuddalore

Based on a set of predetermined criteria, Cuddalore was chosen as one of the pilot districts for this initiative. Cuddalore is located on the south-eastern coast of India along the Bay of Bengal, in the state of Tamil Nadu. Owing to its geography – its 57.5 km coastline, low lying terrain structure, and man-made rivers – Cuddalore is susceptible to floods, cyclones, and droughts. Additionally, the local economy is dependent on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture and fishery, making them extremely vulnerable. It thus serves as a perfect case for understanding the climate-development nexus. As a part of the preliminary assessments, a two-day field study was conducted with the local stakeholders – farming and fishing communities, and key officials from the departments of irrigation, animal husbandry, and agriculture – where valuable data and anecdotal information was gathered.

Earth work for bund construction in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu Earth work for bund construction in Cuddalore, Tamil Nadu

Unsurprisingly, water emerged as a critical sector affected by the changing climate. The adaptation measures required are not only confined to micro-irrigation techniques, but the district also needs careful management and operation of its existing water infrastructure. Being highly vulnerable to floods, sea water incursion is another major problem faced by the district which renders agricultural lands fallow and affects the soil quality. The District Collector, Mr. T. P. Rajesh, IAS, who is pro-active about managing climate stresses in Cuddalore, remarked about the importance of investing in effective monitoring and communication systems for flood mitigation. He observed “Community radio systems are key to bringing the right information at the right time, especially to the locals to manage climate risks”. Climate change has also been manifesting itself in unassuming, yet alarming ways across the different sectors. Fishermen have noticed a decline in fish along the east coast, and spoke of having to go further into deeper waters for fishing. The dwindling fish populations and the catch could be attributed to both over-exploitation and climate variations and change. Fluctuating oceanic temperatures have an impact on the reproductive cycles of species and movement of fish population. “We have been hard hit, many have migrated to other parts of the country in search of fresh catch and securing jobs”, remarked Gajendran, the leader of the fishing community.

Agriculture has also been hit hard by the changes in weather patterns. The Navarai (December – January), one of the three seasons of sowing crops, has all but disappeared. According to Mr. Kanagasabai, Joint Director of Agriculture, Cuddalore, the changing diurnal temperatures due to climatic stresses are one of the reasons why there is an increase in pests and diseases that affect crops. This has led to the extensive use of chemicals and fertilizers, which has resulted in poor soil quality and unsustainable farming.

The situation in Cuddalore is not unique. Coastal regions across the developing world are faced with similar issues. This initiative for climate proofing the developmental plans of Cuddalore thus has the potential to serve as an example for other coastal areas in developing countries.

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