Mohanty focuses on climate change risk assessment and adaptation at The Council on Energy, Environment, and Water in New Delhi. He’s been in the water and climate field for over a decade now.
He explains the cyclone just as he explains India’s water challenges: as a part of a bigger problem. Or really, the biggest problem, which is the changing climate.
India has experienced just under 500 extreme hydrological disasters since 1972. Most of them occurred in the last 15 years. There were 58 cyclones in the 2010s, compared to just 33 in the 1980s. The cost of these disasters is mounting. Between 1998 and 2017, the storms caused $80 billion in damage.
After Amphan struck, the Indian Ministry of Earth Sciences released its first climate change assessment report. The report found that the frequency and intensity of climate extremes in India was going to surpass average global levels. Some parts of the country will have too much water; others, too little.
As global temperatures rise, large water bodies such as with the Bay of Bengal will continue to warm. This increase in warmth is a perfect incubator for strong cyclones like Amphan and the flooding risks they bring. The summer monsoon season, by contrast, is expected to grow weaker, leading to a higher frequency of drought throughout the country.
To Mohanty, Amphan is not an isolated event. India’s climate challenges are related phenomena. Floods, drought, water access: it’s everything together. Policymakers should think in that way, he said. Connect the science of climate change with emergency planning in a way that resonates with locals. Farmers care about salt water ruining their harvest. Coastal communities worry about rising seas.
“You need to have an integrated approach to climate change, climate sciences, and emergency preparedness disaster management,” he said.
Mukherjee and the team at KSCH are connecting locally as well. The organization is working to replant coastal mangroves and rebuild the urban forest in Kolkata. The new mangroves will reinforce the Sundarbans so that the mangrove habitat can cushion the next cyclone. In Kolkata, a greener canopy will buffer air pollution.
Mohanty is worried for the future, but also a bit optimistic. A lot can be done, he said. We have something here. We just have to do it.