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Droughts make the West worried
By Devinder Sharma

From USA to China, scanty rainfall this year has led to droughts. The developed world fears recurrence of it could make some of its cities uninhabitable.

Many US regions are severely affected by drought this year

Recurring drought is becoming a global phenomenon. While we in India thought that the continuing dry spell and the drought conditions being experienced in almost half of the country was exclusive to India, neighbouring China was reeling under its worst drought in decades. Drought has been affecting a sizeable portion of the United States. What began as an unusually dry year, 2009 has turned out to be one of the worst dry years in the US living memory.

In Africa, drought affected the Sahel region, a belt of fertile grasslands south of the Sahara desert. Kenya is among the most affected countries, resulting in a state of emergency, needing food supplies for over 10 million people, a third of its population. East Africa in general was faced with a severe drought. In South America, Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil received scanty rainfalls, with Argentina being worst affected.       What began as an unusually dry year, 2009 has turned out to be one of the worst dry years in the US living memory.

The US National Drought Mitigation Centre estimates that drought afflicts a loss of US $ 6-8 billion every year. 2009 is no exception. Already large parts of California, Wisconsin and Texas States are reeling under a severe drought. In Texas, the Wall Street Journal estimates that the prevailing drought had caused a loss of US $ 3.8 billion in crop and livestock by July 2009. Many cities in Texas -- Dallas, Austin, and Houston imposed water usage restrictions. It also resulted in a surge in wildfires across southern America, By February alone, the National Interagency Fire Centre in Boise reported 11, 814 wildfires. Even in October, it wasn't unusual for people to come across wildfires while driving in California.

For third consecutive year, farmers in California did not receive sufficient water for irrigation

Two of California's biggest reservoirs -- Shasta and Oroville -- were reported to be less than half full at the beginning of the year. California is believed to be facing its worst drought in memory. In neighbouring Nevada, the newspaper reported that the USDA had declared almost the entire state as a natural disaster area.       Most people believe that climate change is only going to affect the developing countries.

Anyway, this brings me to a related question. Normally I find that most people believe that climate change, which of course is responsible for much of the drought conditions that we witness all over, is only going to affect the developing countries. In fact, this impression comes from the repeated statements of climate experts and politicians who always give an impression as if the developing countries are destined to be doomed if they don't make a sacrifice to protect the Earth. Even in India, I find that activists and civil society leaders only talk of the crisis in agriculture and environment resulting from climate change in the developing world.

This does not complete the picture. What I mean is that it is not only the developing countries that are going to suffer. The developed countries too (although they refrain to say so openly and loudly) will also come under the hammer. Early this year The Guardian (Feb 26, 2009) published a news report under the title: Droughts 'may lay waste' to parts of US. The report said: The world's pre-eminent climate scientists produced a blunt assessment of the impact of global warming on the US, warning of droughts that could reduce the American south-west to a wasteland and heat waves that could make life impossible even in northern cities.

In an update on the latest science on climate change, the US Congress was told that melting snow pack could lead to severe drought from California to Oklahoma. In the midwest, diminishing rains and shrinking rivers were lowering water levels in the Great Lakes, even to the extent where it could affect shipping.

"With severe drought from California to Oklahoma, a broad swath of the south-west is basically robbed of having a sustainable lifestyle," said Christopher Field, of the Carnegie Institution for Science. He went on to warn of scorching temperatures in an array of cities. Sacramento in California, for example, could face heat waves for up to 100 days a year.

"We are close to a threshold in a very large number of American cities where uncomfortable heat waves make cities uninhabitable," Field told the Senate's environment and public works committee.

Mind you, USA is not the only rich and industrialised country to be adversely affected. All developed countries will get the kick. No wonder, the world is demonstrating an urgency to combat climate change. Let me make it very clear. The developed countries are more worried about what will happen to their landscape. But they are cleverly using developing countries to fight their battle.

The views expressed above are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of d-sector editorial team.

Devinder Sharma  |  hunger55@gmail.com

Devinder Sharma is an award-winning journalist, writer, and researcher globally recognised for his analysis on food, agriculture and trade policy. 

Write to the Author  |  Write to d-sector  |  Editor's Note

 Other Articles by Devinder Sharma in
Environment Development  > Risks and Hazards > Global Warming and Climate Change

Weather aberrations may exacerbate hunger
Friday, August 20, 2010

The devastation wrought by aberrant weather conditions in several parts of the world has posed a larger question about the implications climate change has for food security of a nation.

Don't downplay glacier melting
Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It is in the interests of both India and China to allow scientific explorations and put suitable remedial solutions in place to minimise the threat of 'Glacial Lake Outburst Floods'.

Climate cost of free trade
Monday, October 26, 2009

Climate change has become the buzzword in all development discourses. However, not many realise that the international agencies now trumpeting climate change issues, have long been pushing for free global trade, which is the major cause of global warming.
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Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

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Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

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