India like entire South Asia is faced with increasing population, spread of urbanisation, lack of adequate water resources, and environmental pollution hindering socio-economic activities. The countries in the region will have to individually and collectively evaluate the tradeoffs between climate change actions and nearer term needs. Coping strategies would have to be developed for three crucial sectors:
- land resources
- water resources
- food productivity
Adaptation measures that are designed to anticipate the potential effects of climate change can help offset many of the negative effects (Bhawan, 2002). The development of adaptation measures have to reflect that India is an agrarian society. 64 per cent of its population dependent on agriculture, contributing almost 23 per cent to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001–2002 change (Chatterjee et al., 2005). In India, food grain production has moved from an area of food deficiency to self-sufficiency. Today, India has also emerged as the largest producer of fruits in the world and the second largest producer of milk and vegetables. Sustained growth in agriculture is helping to dent poverty in India.
However, agriculture in India is highly dependent on the South-West Monsoon (June–September), indicating its vulnerability to climate change (Chatterjee et al., 2005). Rainfed agriculture in marginal areas in semi-arid and sub-humid regions is mostly at risk. India could lose 125 million tons of its rainfed cereal production - equivalent to 18 percent of its total production (Diouf, 2007). The highest level of vulnerability was estimated in the states of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and in the northern part of Maharashtra and the southern parts of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (Pachauri, 2004).
As a general hypothesis for developing adaptation capacity, it becomes important to mainstream climate change in development strategies (Pachauri, 2004). The impacts of climate change, in terms of their projected frequency and intensity, would unfavourably affect the prospects for sustainable development. There is an accepted need for creation of local capacity to undertake adaptation measures, which in several cases far exceed the ability of local communities to finance and development. (Pachauri, 2008).
Adaptation to climate irregularities is certainly not new and we may consider a substantial pre-existing and indigenous know how at individuals and societies. It is important to understand and learn from relevant past adaptations and this indigenous knowledge (Gregory et al. 2005).
New challenges arise in particular from the dimension of the requested effort to face to predicted climate change impacts and to integrate it with the attempt to achieve the Millennium Development goals. Recognizing the increasing population in the region and limited availability of land, agricultural productivity needs to continuously increase to meet the growing demand despite the adverse impacts of climate expected in the future (Bhawan, 2002). Strategies and programs that are more likely to succeed need therefore to link with coordinated efforts aimed at poverty alleviation, enhancing food security and water availability, combating land degradation and reducing loss of biological diversity and ecosystem services, as well as improving adaptive capacity. Future vulnerability depends not only on climate change but also on the type of development path that is pursued. Thus adaptation should be implemented in the context of national and global sustainable development efforts (UNFCC, 2007). For this purpose, small-scale, community-level strategies, that increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable groups while accomplishing added social and environmental goals (e.g., slowing desertification) must be considered alongside the large-scale, technical/structural approaches that could potentially dominate adaptation planning (AIACC, 2007).
In this context, it is obvious that traditional single-sector adaptation strategies will fall short. Instead integrated measures that enhance adaptive capacities of systems are required to be identified and strengthened. Adaptive capacities can be enhanced both at the macro level by introducing suitable policies/programs and at the local level through initiatives taken by the communities in response to adverse weather conditions that in turn strengthen reactive abilities for such changes in the future (Bhandari et al., 2007).
Increasing adaptive capacity must address different types of vulnerabilities (defined by IPCC as a function of three components, namely exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity) and may comprise a portfolio of individual measures.
Adaptation to biophysical vulnerability comprise cropping patterns, crop diversification / shift to resistant varieties or tolerant crops. Important is the focus on new varieties, which can cope with the reduced vegetation time as consequence of the delayed onset of the monsoon. To counter soil degradation requires soil conservation measures and the increase of organic fertilization (e.g. vermiculture) (TERI, 2003).
Growing new crops such as vegetables, fodder and higher value crops for commercial sale; improved storage for fodder and food grains are basically considered as promising (MoEF), but there are also limited opportunities for changes in crops, particularly in regions, where three rice crops are grown in succession, annually (Parchauri, 2004). The need for growing specific crops during the kharif and rabi seasons must be considered as well. Changes in crops also have to be dependant on accompanying socio-economic measures and the diversification of trade chains, to enable farmers to sell there goods. An important need is also to improve dairy production and the growth of medicinal crops to provide additional income for farmers change (Chatterjee et al., 2005).
Adaptation to the social vulnerability comprise to asset ownership (on land, house, cattle, pumpsets, tractors, tillers, threshers), to strengthen the access to public goods & facilities to improve banking and financial management, and to increase education and health service (TERI, 2003). Since agriculture is the predominant source of livelihood for a large number of peasant cultivators and agricultural labourers in that region, a shift to other occupations has serious limitations and consequences for livelihoods and development (Pachauri, 2004).
To increase the societal adaptive capacity education is commonly understood a major component, but deeply linked to the economic welfare. Villagers send their children to pursue their studies in these primary schools, where education is free. But some money (in terms of books, minimum annual fees, uniforms) is always spent by villagers to provide education. With successive occurrences of drought, villagers find it difficult to even account for these minimum expenses, and discontinue their children’s education. Only if they subsequently succeed to earn by growing crops, do they send their children to school (Chatterjee et al. 2005). Prominent measures such as the national Midday Meal program, which provides lunch free of cost to school children, and for tackling issues of rural poverty via its National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (Diouf, 2007) will help to reduce child mortality and improve the basis for education of future generations.
Another elementary feedback mechanism of improved education is the awareness to the large variety of regional, international supporting programs. Increased basic education and will inevitably improve the exploitation of programs.
Adaptation to technological vulnerability comprise measures as infrastructural support, irrigation technology and management, improve markets, proper communication networks and alternative employment options (Teri, 2003). Important measures comprise also improved water conservation and harvesting techniques through bunding of fields, construction of anicuts and digging and deepening ponds and wells (MoEF, 2004). A significant need arise from demands of a better forecasting of monsoon rains to enable the preventive execution of activities such as as e.g. the Food-for-work programme (Chatterjee et al., 2005).
The genuinely impressive success story of Indian economic growth and its emergence as a global powerhouse is also confronted with a more pessimistic picture as a large proportion of the Indian population has yet to benefit from the dynamic changes underway in the country, with special reference to the health situation (Diouf, 2007). Public health-specific adaptation measures to increase resilience include improving vector-control, disaster preparedness (such as identifying areas for emergency settlements and appropriate housing), and integration of the environment and health sectors (Ebi et al. 2007).
More detailed measures are already described e.g. in AIACC (2007), UNFCCC (2007) and Bhandari et al. (2007). In any case there is a need (i) to enable a stronger integration of the various sector specific measures (in particular the interaction of water supply, irrigation and rainfed agriculture, as well as the link of technical and non-technical measures, (ii) to take into account the spatial variability, and (iii) the better quantification of changes from water rich areas to drought prone areas, with related consequences on agricultural practices, infrastructure development and requested crop varieties.