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Climate Change, Water and Food Security and Human Health

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IMPRI Team

Climate change is a huge crisis which is posing a threat to all in the face. Today, we are living in an era of uncertainty with great risk to life, lack of access to basic services, and livelihoods. One of the major reasons behind this is depletion of significant amounts of natural resources over time, rapid urbanization, population explosion etc.

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In this context, Centre for Environment, Climate Change and Sustainable Development (CECCSD) Impact and Policy Research Institute (IMPRI), New Delhi, Tarun Bharat Sangh, India Water Portal and Parmarth Samaj Sevi Sansthan organized a lecture on Climate Change, Water and Food Security and Human Health by Dr. M Dinesh Kumar, Executive Director of Institute for Resource Analysis and Policy (IRAP), Hyderabad.

The purpose of the webinar was to collate evidence and knowledge, understand and analyze it and to collectively propose a policy practice to address the various challenges of climate change.

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Dr Dinesh Kumar begins with the conceptual framework of food security i.e., food security deals with food supplies; with two key components, physical access to food and food absorption. Climate can affect the ability of humans to consume and acquire nutritional value from food. He emphasizes on the importance of the temporal variability in rainfall and other weather parameters.

He looks at India’s food security challenge from the land and water dimensions. He states that India’s current food grain production (fine & coarse cereals and pulses) is hovering around 304 tons. Yet, the per capita food grain availability has been declining since 2001. Also, there is a change in consumption patterns as one can observe increasing demands for animal products like poultry products, eggs and milk-based items.

Most of the water requirement in the country is for food production. The climatic conditions, the amount of rainfall, aridity etc. vary from one region to another. This has a significant impact on the water demand for food production. Thus, there is a major imbalance in water demand and water availability for agriculture in different regions. Limited arable land is a major constraint for water-rich regions to produce sufficient yields to meet the demand which puts enormous pressure on naturally water-scarce regions like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat etc. to increase production by over-exploiting its water resources.

In the naturally water-scarce regions, groundwater resources are depleting due to overexploitation for agricultural needs. For example, large parts of Rajasthan, particularly western Rajasthan, Northern Gujarat, and a few pockets of Maharashtra are massively over exploited. Groundwater scarcity is causing a huge impact on food security owing to shifts in cropping pattern from cereals to high valued cash crops.

Impact of Climate Change on Food Security

He further points out how crop physiological models show negative impact of temperature rise on wheat yields due to faster crop maturity and positive impact on rice yields due to increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Climate change can impend food security by affecting food supplies through rise in temperatures, reduction in water availability for crop production etc. in semi-arid and arid regions.

Similarly, climate can affect food absorption through reducing the ability to consume and benefit from the food resulting in nutritional and health status of people. He reiterated that India faces increasing food security challenges with rising income and population levels.

What can be the areas for future action ?

  1. Managing land and water is key to sustaining India’s agricultural production and food security.
  2. Generating precise scientific data on climate and hydrology is vital to address the grave issues posed by climate change. The scientific database would help plan for climate induced impacts on food security.
  3. From the way India has managed natural calamities, it is evident that India has capabilities to adapt to the changes which the current predictions on climate change highlight.
  4. Strengthening of capabilities for groundwater management in the water scarce regions.
  5. Transfer of water from water abundant regions to water-scarce regions is a practical strategy. 
  6. Enhancing water productivity in irrigated agriculture through institutional interventions is significant to strengthen our acquired capabilities.

Dr. Dinesh Kumar asserts that the unawareness of the serious challenges posed by climate change at the National level is very high. Government is not willing to explore the concept of water demand management, water pricing and micro-irrigation techniques. The basic premise on which we need to study climate change must be sound and based on facts and figures.

The consequences of climate variability on our water resources are far more serious than what appears to be consequences of climate change. India lacks on the front of long-term planning of depleting water resources and management of the crisis. NGOs are actively participating in their domain i.e., at the local level through awareness campaigns, groundwater management, rainwater harvesting etc. but, the need is for national level initiatives to be taken by the Government.

Models like virtual land and water trading are of significance where a water scarce state can be on trade agreement with a state having land in abundance which can produce surplus at subsidized rates. Since approximately 55 % of Indian population depends upon agriculture, it is extremely important to prioritize the amount of water allocation for environmental needs in a given basin.

The economic feasibility of the vertical farming technique, will determine whether this concept will be developed or not, has not yet been adequately assessed. Also, generally, the ideas proposed by civil society are taken into consideration by the government while formulating policies. Still, there is a need to build coherence between the government and civil society organizations.

Climate Literacy Programs

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Dr. Indira Khurana states that with the increasing water literacy and climate literacy programs there is an improvement in water augmentation and management techniques, revival of water resources and participation of youth in states like Rajasthan and Maharashtra. In a diverse and widespread country like India, one should look at local solutions so that at least we have nutrition and food security in the far-flung areas and villages.

The need of the hour is for a paradigm shift from seeking a straitjacket solution of applying ideas universally across the country to adopting both micro and macro level steps to ensure food security and maintenance of good health.

YouTube Video for Climate Change, Water and Food Security and Human Health:

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