A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change affirmed man-made global warming is happening, rather rapidly, notwithstanding a recent drop in the rate of temperature increase.
Closer home, a Chennai-based researcher has calculated the loss of land in Tamil Nadu due to rising sea levels and the impact this will have on marginalised communities.
For instance, in Cuddalore district, more than 2,600 hectares of land could get inundated with the sea level rising by 50 cm, according to Saleem Khan who works at the Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation Research, Anna University.
The 29-year-old researcher has been invited by NASA to make a presentation on the adaptation strategies for indigenous communities to cope with climate change.
Khan’s study is mainly along the Vellar–Coleroon stretch that spans almost 6,541 hectares.
“Considering the annual sea-level rise, by the year 2100, one-third of this land could be inundated. This means at least 17 communities, which include both farmers and fishermen, are in danger,” Khan said.
As part of his study, Khan specially focussed on the Irulas of Pichavaram who depend on mangroves entirely for their livelihood.
“The people of this community here, unlike elsewhere where they catch snakes, are engaged in fishing in the backwaters of mangroves, which are nurseries for fish,” he said.
The most challenging part of the project was interacting with the Irulas, he said.
“Surprisingly, they have their own adaptation strategies though they may not know the technical terms. For instance, they know they are not able to get native varieties of fish now, and they think there is something wrong with the water, which is not very different from the truth that the temperature rise in the upper layers of water, due to climate change, can lead to migration of fish.”
Among many recommendations, Khan suggests landward migration of mangroves which means expanding the area under mangrove cover, which he believes can help protect the coastal ecosystem in many ways.
“At present, scientists in Pichavaram are engaged in regenerating degraded mangroves, but we need to increase the area of their growth too,” he said.
He also suggests changes in the agriculture pattern there. “The staple crops grown now are paddy and groundnut but there is severe problem of salt intrusion. We need to work on growing salt-tolerant crops.” He also suggests floating agriculture techniques, successful in countries such as Bangladesh.
Before he attempted this study, Khan, an alumnus of Loyola College and New College, had worked with people in various kuppams in the city, educating them about the importance of conservation of mangroves.
“We need to understand that climate change policies cannot be drafted in boardrooms and left there. They need to be tailor-made for every coastal area in the country and implemented with the cooperation of people living there,” he said.