In the year 2021 India witnessed multiple intense cascading risk scenarios. Amid the Delta variant of COVID-19 that triggered the second wave, India was faced with five cyclonic storms -- Cyclone Tauktae, Yaas, Gulaab, Shaheen and Jawad in the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian sea.
The erratic monsoons left a trail of devastating major floods across Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Assam. As 2021 has unfolded the challenges of a riskier world, this is also an opportunity to chart out India’s adaptation and resilience pathways.
India’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) baseline report published in November 2021 defines poverty as the deprivation of crucial and basic parameters of health, education and living standards. States with the highest population of multi-dimensional poor are Bihar followed by Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
Further, the third edition of the SDG India Index and Dashboard 2020– 21: Partnerships in the Decade of Action was released by NITI Aayog in June 2021. This SDG Index developed in collaboration with the United Nations (UN) tracks the progress of all States and UTs on 115 indicators for 16 out of 17 SDGs. In 2021, states that ranked the lowest were Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.
Is climate risk a key driver of vulnerability?
In April 2021, a report on the detailed national-level assessment of climate vulnerability of states and districts in India was released by the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India in partnership with the Swiss Development Co-operation.
The report uses a Common Framework for Vulnerability Assessment based on the definition provided by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its 5th Assessment Report. Based on their current climate risk and key drivers of vulnerability, the report identifies the most vulnerable states and districts in India.
The states with relatively high vulnerability are Jharkhand, Mizoram, Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Assam, Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, and West Bengal. It also captures district-level vulnerabilities and identifies that in Assam, Bihar, and Jharkhand, over 60% of districts are in the highly vulnerable category.
Results from the abovementioned reports show that states with higher climate vulnerabilities are also multi-dimensionally poor and feature at the bottom of SDG matrix pyramid. Therefore, managing the risk assumes key significance in building India’s resilient future.
Cost of India’s climate risk and adaptation
The Risk and Resilience Portal of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) estimates the annualized average loss (AAL) for India that includes both slow onset (drought), extreme events and biological hazards at $93 billion (3.35 per cent of India’s GDP).
Drought contributes more than 70 per cent to India’s riskscape followed by floods, cyclones and earthquakes/tsunamis. The AAL increases to $132 billion (4.75 per cent of India GDP) and $224 billion (8.84 per cent of India GDP) under the moderate and worst climate change scenarios of representative concentration pathways 4.5 and 8.5.
The portal also estimates total climate adaptation costs for cascading hazards in India (natural and biological) under extreme climate change scenarios at US$ 43.3 billion (1.6 per cent of India’s GDP)6 . It is evident that an investment of US$1 in adaptation contributes to a reduction in AAL by US$5.5.
Adaptation prioritises and key policy actions
Adaptation priorities derived from India’s unique riskscape include making new infrastructure resilient, strengthening early warning systems, making water resource management resilient and improving dryland agriculture crop production followed by protecting mangroves in the East and West coasts of India.
While this allows prioritization of adaptation action and investment at the country level, more granular risk analysis and profiles can help target appropriate adaption action locally. In this regard, the success of two ongoing national programmes is especially significant.
One, the Mahatma Gandhi National Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) with an annual budget of $13 billion (2020) addresses all the adaptation priorities substantially. 65 per cent of the allocated MNREGA budget goes into natural resources management, water management, drought-proofing, building grey and green infrastructure including nature-based solutions.
It helps build community resilience through natural resource management, inclusion, and livelihood security of the poor and marginalized. India’s efforts on strengthening multi-hazard early warning systems continue to address the unmet needs of the most vulnerable in climate risk hotspots.
Two, India has launched an ambitious $1.3 trillion plan to develop integrated infrastructure for the next 25 years. Popularly known as Prime Minister Gati Shakti (the power of speed), this is essentially to promote next-generation infrastructure.
Assuming that the cost of resilience is in the range of 5 to 10 per cent of the cost of building infrastructure, it will be a significant investment in India’s resilient future. India’s leadership in the Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) is an effort that addresses the multifaceted issues posed by the vulnerability of infrastructure systems globally.
The National Policy on Disaster Management (2009) and the National Disaster Management Plan (2016) focus on disaster resilience and integrating the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction as well as the SDGs. The 2016 National Disaster Management Plan has been revised in 2019 to incorporate a comprehensive action plan on ‘Biological and Public Health Emergencies’.
The Plan subsequently outlines action points on biological and public health emergencies at national and subnational (state) levels. With the recommendations of the XV Finance Commission report, India has dedicated resources for the entire cycle of disaster mitigation, preparedness, relief and rescue, as well as recovery and reconstruction.
The National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) and the State Action Plan for Climate Change (SAPCC) have a specific focus on climate adaptation programmes. Policy coherence among the Climate Change Action Plans and the Nation Disaster Management Plan that strengthen India’s position at the Voluntary National Review of the SDG progress, the Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and the Sendai Framework targets is a key determinant of India’s adaptation and resilience pathways in a riskier world.
Santosh Kumar is Professor, National Institute of Disaster Management, Ministry of Home, Government of India, New Delhi
Sapna Dubey is Consultant, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok
Sanjay Srivastava is Chief, Disaster Risk Reduction, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok
India’s National Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) baseline report was published by NITI Aayog in partnership with Oxford University’s Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
ESCAP Risk and resilience portal, Asia-Pacific Disaster Resilience Network