Since the beginning of 2024, some parts of India have been reeling under the cycle of unpredictable weather, and natural disasters due to climate change. Sometimes it is suffering from extreme snowless winters, rain, extreme long and intense heat waves, droughts and floods, and pre-monsoon cyclonic storms etc.

The rise in natural disasters in India has not been unexpected. The increase in natural disasters is due to the increase in the average temperature of the earth.

The rise in earth's average temperature has been driven by the pro-capitalist/corporate economic development model adopted by governments of various countries, including India.

Most of the countries of the world have released a large amount of greenhouse gasses in the environment while developing their economies. They have been indiscriminately depleting natural resources, and as a result the average temperature of the earth has started to increase rapidly.

Scientists have been alerting governments and leaders around the world from time to time, through their research, about the climate changes and natural disasters caused by the increase in the average temperature of the earth.

In 2014, the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented alarming facts about climate change due to an increase in the average temperature of the earth. It warned that if concrete measures are not taken quickly to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses no country in the world will be able to avoid natural disasters caused by climate change.

Increase in the earth's average temperature will multiply the frequency, duration, and intensity of all natural disasters. In this report, India and China were specifically warned that natural disasters due to climate change will affect these two countries more than other countries.

India's normal weather cycle has been changing over the past few years. The spring and winter seasons are getting shorter and the summer season is getting longer and hotter.

The onset of winter in India used to start from the last week of October and last till mid-February. In 2023, November and December were warmer than normal but after that there was a sudden drop in temperature in January.

In January, the temperature in the northern states of India has been quite dry and well below the average temperature. Earlier, snow started falling in the hilly areas in the last week of October or in the first week of November, but this time there was no snowfall at all in November, December, and January.

The first snowfall in 2024 in the hilly states occurred in the first week of February. However, February saw above-average snowfall throughout, March was dry again.

Usually, the temperature starts to rise in April, but this year some hilly areas experienced snowfall again which is quite different from the normal weather and an alarming phenomenon as the snow in April will melt faster with the rise in temperature.

The problems of the local people will increase. People can be accidentally crushed by large avalanches sliding down from distant high mountains.

The snow in November, December, and January freezes gradually due to low temperatures and melts slowly with the rise in temperature in March, April, which allows water to enter the rivers through tributaries.

After the belated snowfall in the hilly states, the eastern and southern states of the country also experienced an unusual weather phenomenon. Coastal states like Odisha, West Bengal, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh were hit by heat waves in April.

After this, in May, the effect of the increase in temperature also began to be seen in the north-western states of the country. During the period from May 15 to June 18, temperature in many parts of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, West Uttar Pradesh, and Delhi consistently recorded at 40 degree Celsius or above. In some areas, the temperature even reached 45 to 49 degree Celsius on some days.

The arrival of heat waves in the hilly states is a matter of great concern for India which points to a dire warning. As temperature rises in the hilly states, the risk of glacial lakes outburst is increasing.

According to a study by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), one of the four glacial lakes in the Himalayas are more than 10 hectares in size. These large glacial lakes can burst at any time, causing heavy flooding in the mountainous regions as well as in the plains.

In October 2023, the burst of the Lhonak glacial lake in Sikkim caused severe floods in the state, and caused huge loss of life and property. With the increase in temperature, the incidence of forest fires is also increasing manifold.

A clear example of this is in the state of Uttarakhand. The state has seen temperatures ranging from 40 degree to 44 degree Celsius from May 29 to June 19 this year, meaning indicating that the state was under the grip of severe heat waves. As many as 1747 hectares of forest here have been burnt to ashes due to such high temperatures.

The India Meteorological Department ( IMD) in its, a report in May 2024 predicted that the people of the country may now suffer from heat waves for more days than before.

According to this report, the northern states of the country, which previously experienced three days of heat wave, may experience five to seven days, double in the southern states, and eight to 11 days in the states of southern Rajasthan, West Madhya Pradesh, Marathwada, and Gujarat.

This shows that the IMD was also making guesses and the outbreak of heat waves in these 35 days was far from their forecast and research. A few years ago, the arrival of heat waves was limited to the northern plains and central states, but now their arrival has been recorded in 23 states, according to the IMD.

Along with the southern coastal states, hilly states like Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand have also been affected this year.

It is also important to mention here that with the increase in temperature, the surface water of the Indian Ocean is warming faster than the surface water of other oceans.

In May, when Cyclone Remal hit the Bay of Bengal, the temperature of the Bay of Bengal was 32 degree Celsius, which could easily form a high-speed cyclone. The cyclone lashed Odisha, and West Bengal as well as seven North-Eastern states of the country with heavy rains causing significant loss of life and property as a result of floods, and landslides in these states.

Due to the warming of the Indian Ocean, 14 Indian states/union territories along the coastal areas of the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal and seven North-Eastern states are now facing marine disasters.

According to another forecast of the IMD, this year monsoon winds may bring average or above rainfall. Now, the question arises that if in 2023, even after less than average rain due to El-Nino there was heavy damage due to flash floods in Himachal Pradesh, and Uttarakhand hilly states, what about the conditions with average or above rain this time?

Will the country not be caught in a natural disaster like floods after suffering from heat waves? If India, and its people are to be protected from the vicious cycle of natural disasters, the Union and state governments must take necessary measures to curb the rise in temperature.

To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, generate energy from renewable sources, provide efficient public transport preferably to every part of the country so that people automatically prefer public transport over private vehicles. To increase the area under forests rapidly, refrain from planting ornamental and commercial trees in each area and ensure that local trees are planted in their place.

The union government should fulfill its commitments made at the international level. State governments should make plans for economic development according to the geographical conditions of each region.

Construction work and selection of crops should also be done according to the weather and topographical conditions of the particular area. Oak and cedar trees should be planted in place of pine trees to prevent wildfires in mountainous areas.

Shady trees like Pipal, Tahli and Banyan, and fruit trees like Mango, Jamun, Guava etc. should be planted in the plains to avoid the impact of rising temperature and the low income people can also benefit from shade of these trees and their fruits.

Apart from this, every citizen of the country should make efforts to preserve the natural environment. Only if concerted efforts are made at all levels, India can come out of the vicious cycle of natural disasters caused by climate change.

Dr Gurinder Kaur is a former professor, Department of Geography, Punjabi University, Patiala. views expressed are the writer’s own.