Assam most vulnerable to climate change in IHR

Guwahati, Dec 23 (IANS/Mongabay) | Publish Date: 12/23/2018 10:51:33 AM IST

The Himalayan region supports about 20 percent of the world’s population. But the ecologically fragile region, the storehouse of the third-highest amount of frozen water on earth, is highly vulnerable to climate change. Among the 12 states in the Indian Himalayan Region (IHR), Assam is found to be the most vulnerable to the changing climate, according to a Department of Science and Technology (DST) vulnerability assessment.

The study, “Climate Vulnerability Assessment for the Indian Himalayan Region Using a Common Framework”, was done by the Indian Institute of Technology-Guwahati and the Indian Institute of Technology-Mandi in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, to help understand climate change vulnerabilities which could inform development of adaptation strategies and ecosystem management for the Himalayan region. The study was part of the Swiss-funded Indian Himalayas Climate Adaptation Programme (IHCAP). 

The assessment is significant for India as a majority of its population is dependent on agriculture which requires water. The Himalayas are a source of many rivers which supply this water.

Bordering eight countries, the Himalayan mountain range is the tallest in the world. It covers an area of about 4.3 million square kilometres and nearly 1.5 billion people depend on it for water, food and energy. In India, the IHR spans across 12 states -- Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Meghalaya, Assam and (hill districts of) West Bengal.

The vulnerability assessment was done on the basis of four major factors: Socio-economic, demographic status and health, the sensitivity of agricultural production, forest-dependent livelihoods and access to information services and infrastructure.

As per the assessment, the “vulnerability index is found to be the highest for Assam and Mizoram, followed by Jammu and Kashmir, Manipur, Meghalaya and West Bengal, Nagaland, Himachal Pradesh and Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand”.

“Sikkim is the least vulnerable state,” the assessment found.

The report, however, emphasised that “vulnerability is a relative measure, which means that this assessment does not portray Sikkim, Uttarakhand or Arunachal Pradesh as having a low vulnerability in an absolute sense”.

“These states are least vulnerable relative to the other IHR states, and also have several inherent drivers of vulnerability that need to be addressed,” the report said.

The study explained that states with low per capita income, low area under irrigation, low area under forests per 1,000 households and high area under open forests will receive a high vulnerability score.

“For example, Assam has the least area under irrigation, least forest area available per 1,000 rural households and the second lowest per capita income among the other IHR states, and thus scores the highest vulnerability score,” the report observed. 

For Mizoram, the report said that “the state has a very high sensitivity of agriculture sector along with poor connectivity, access to information and infrastructure”.

“The state has seven major drivers of vulnerability - highest yield variability, no area under crop insurance, largest area under open forests, and largest area under slope (more than 30 percent as compared to other states. It also has the second lowest percentage area under irrigation and the third lowest road density among the 12 states,” the study said.

It identified factors such as “least road density, no area under crop insurance, low area under forests per 1,000 rural households, high percentage of marginal farmers, low percentage area under horticulture crops, low livestock to human ratio and low percentage of women in the overall workforce” as drivers of vulnerability for Jammu and Kashmir.

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