SUBJECT :Climate 

Climate scientists and experts have urged city planners in Kolkata and policy makers in Bengal to get out of the Five-Year Plan psyche and take a real long-term view. Or else, they warn Kolkata will become a ghost town and Bengal a pariah state by the turn of the century.

Speaking to TOI on the sidelines of the dissemination workshop on the Fifth Assessment Report of IPCC, its co-author and Jadavpur University professor Joyashree Roy said when flyovers, roads and satellite townships are planned in future, they must be designed to withstand high intensity cyclones.

"Urbanization is said to be an adaptive strategy against climate change. But the cities we built must be climate resilient. To do so, we must plan not for the immediate future but with 2110 mind. When relaying the city's drainage, make provision for high intensity rain that will cause frequent flooding. Unless that is done, there will be water stagnation for several days at a time. This in turn will trigger outbreak of diseases," Roy said.

She also called on city architects to keep flooding and extreme temperature variation in mind while designing houses. "It makes sense to look at traditional architecture and learn how buildings were so designed that they got plenty of natural light and air while keeping the heat out. Roof top gardens can be adopted in a major way. It will keep the house cool and also be a kitchen garden," she said.

Beyond Kolkata, Roy said the Fifth Assessment Report pointed to food security being impacted in the region. "Bengal which has 70% of the population dependent on agriculture that contributes to 17.8% of the state's gross domestic product is in a high risk zone. To lower risk, it needs to shift a big chunk of people away from agriculture to agri processing. Those who farm should embrace agronomic practices to get better yield out of the same land. To hedge risk, they should grow low duration crops like pulses and wheat. IT is important to keep the nutrition basket fixed and not be fixated on paddy," she reasoned.

River expert and West Bengal Pollution Control Board chairman Kalyan Rudra too said there was a need to alter the agriculture pattern as farmers in Bengla were increasingly drawing more water from the ground. In 173 blocks of the state, ground water table is lowering at an alarming rate of 20 mm per year that is quite alarming.

"In the Bengal delta, June rainfall has declined at the rate of 1 mm per year between 1901 and 2002 while September railfall has increased. This has led to water scarcity in the first half of the monsoon period followed by flood in the latter half. There is also increased occurrence of delayed monsoon and mid-monsoon break, forcing farmers to rely on underground water," he pointed out.

With Himalayan glaciers retreating fast, Rudra cautioned that Ganga that receives 70% of its lean season water from snow and ice-melt water ran the risk of losing its seasonality. "Bengal appears water rich today but there are threats looming large. With sea level rising at 1.73 mm per year between 1901 and 2010, the situation has been further aggravated in Bengal as the outer delta or coastal tract is sinking at 4-6.2 mm per year. In the 20th century, Bengal has lost 420 sq km to the sea. With erosion continuing unabated, the loss can be many times more in this century," he warned.

Mihir Bhatt of Climate Development Knowledge Network said the measures that West Bengal takes to mitigate and adapt to climate change challenges will be extremely important for the rest of the country. "Bengal will be one of the worst impacted by climate change due to the high density of population, presence of coastline and people residing in the Sunderbans. The rest of the country will be closely following how Bengal prepares for climate challenges ahead," said Bhatt.

Source: 9 March, 2015, The Times Of India