Talking About Climate Change
is a Real Ice-breaker

 

The difficulty of predicting the local effects of climate change makes a compelling case for preventing it.

Adaptation to Climate Change

Last year, the IPCC released a major report which focused on what actions could be taken to adapt to climate change and attempted to describe who/what is especially vulnerable to climate change. It is clear that specific estimate of how climate change affects places, people and things are very uncertain and if brought down to a local level that climate change impacts could go either way1.

A frustrating aspect of working in the area of climate change is that quantification of risks is difficult to do. One might ask, ‘has my risk of dying increased because of more hot days?’ and the answer would not be a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’, because the magnitude of alteration of local temperature and rainfall is still being debated. I know that I should probably avoid beachfront property on the coasts of Orissa because that option is available to me. But if my livelihood depended heavily on the local resources, adaptation to climate change would be quite necessary for me and my community’s survival.

While it is known that India is adapting to the changing climate, extensive efforts to curb GHG emissions will only slow climate change, not avoid it. Thus adaptation is necessary and a necessary component of that adaptation is technology2. The good news is that there is a growing body of experience from which to learn from when it comes to adaptation technology in action in different parts of India.

The Flood Early Warning System (FEWS) in Assam

Floods, flash floods, river-bank erosion are frequent water-induced hazards in the eastern Brahmaputra basin in Assam. Climate change is considered a major driving force in this changing water cycle, triggering alteration in the regional and local weather system3. Flash floods have been causing considerable loss of life and property in lowland communities, particularly during the monsoon season (arriving right now in Assam). Two districts – Lakhimpur and Dhemaji are flood prone lying in the river basins of Jiahdal and Singora.

A community based flood early warning system (FEWS) has been piloted in these two districts in 2013 by ICIMOD and Aaranyak as part of the Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP). The wireless flood early warning system (FEWS) is a low-tech, cost-effective and user-friendly system consisting of two units: a transmitter and a receiver – both of which are installed upstream. The transmitter is installed along the riverbank and the receiver is installed at a house near the river.

Critical flood levels are set with the help of the local community. A flood sensor attached to the wireless transmitter detects rising water levels and when the water reaches a critical level, a signal is wirelessly transmitted to the receiver. The flood warning is then disseminated via mobile phones to downstream villages and concerned agencies. The flow of information then proceeds simultaneously in two parallel chains to reach both the village and the nearby government officials.

The effectiveness of FEWS is dependent on:

Proper site selection, thus involvement of local community is a must.

Reliability of the equipment as both units are powered by solar PV panels and rechargeable batteries that are regularly monitored by trained local community members.

Impact

There has been direct impact on the lives of 20,000 - 25,000 people living downstream in 40 villages who now have a lead time of 1.5 - 2 hours to prepare for an impending flood and evacuate if necessary. Communities can gather together to reinforce embankments, plug holes in leaky structures or move people and livestock to higher ground. In Dihiri in Jiahdal river basin, assets including livestock worth approximately $3,300 were saved during the flood season of 20134.

In addition, local authorities can position equipment for emergency response and aid agencies can mobilise sooner. From the parallel information dissemination chain, district administration can inform the national/state disaster response force who are then deployed for evacuation and rescue/rehabilitation. q

Rowena Mathew
rmathew@devalt.org

Endnotes
1 IPCC. 2014. "Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability".
2 Asian Development Bank (ADB). 2014. "Technologies to support climate change adaptation".
3 Das, Parthaet al. 2014. "Policy and Institutions in Adaptation to Climate Change: Case study on flood mitigation infrastructure in India and Nepal". ICIMOD.
4 ibid

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