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"Climate Change Vulnerability and Indigenous Communities in Jharkhand: A Precarious Situation"

Updated: May 23, 2023

Abstract

The international community's development strategy is centred on the transnational problem of climate change. Thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes due to natural disasters, sea level rise, and melting glaciers, and more are in danger. The direct effects of climate change are more likely to affect indigenous groups. The state of Jharkhand's changing climate is evidence of the state's naturally variable climate, according to an examination of historical patterns and contemporary unpredictable behaviour in climatic occurrences. Many studies for the state show that Jharkhand and the indigenous population of the state are in a precarious situation due to its high climate sensitivity and vulnerability, combined with low adaptive capacity.

Introduction

Climate change is proving to be one of the greatest challenges faced by the global community today. A United Nations research claims that the issues that indigenous people currently experiences, such as political and economic marginalisation, infringement of their human rights, discrimination, and unemployment, are made worse by climate change. Numerous indigenous populations reside in regions that are extremely vulnerable to climate change. These peoples’ unique ties to the environment mean that a changing climate puts not only their lives at risk but their identities. Because of their history and culture, indigenous communities are in a unique position because they are more dependent on natural resources for food, shelter, and ceremonial life than any other group.

Woman planting saplings

Description

Climate change is attracting even more attention from the media, academics, politicians and even businesses, as evidence mounts about its scale and seriousness, and the speed at which it is affecting the world. However, despite the fact that they are among the most severely impacted, their effects on minorities and indigenous groups are rarely mentioned. There is no doubt that the climate is changing and it will go on changing which is a great threat to agriculture and ecology. Even if the concentration of all greenhouse gases is kept constant at the level of 2000 AD further warming of about 0.1ºC per decade may be expected (Meena et al., 2009). The climate change models suggest that the direct short-term impacts of climate change will be on freshwater availability, food security, energy security, biodiversity, and human health. Scientists have estimated the degree of threat to life on Earth with each degree added to the mean global temperature. There are studies commissioned at the global and national levels to determine indicative as well as highly probable impacts on the ecosystems.

Climate change has affected a large section of farmers in India

Climate change is a looming threat to Indigenous peoples. Climate change is already apparent in Jharkhand, there is a reported rise in average rainfall in parts of the state and this increase is not only undeniably steady but also significant and has the potential of changing the agriculture pattern. The UN has said that climate change and economic pressures are negatively impacting the traditional food-gathering techniques of indigenous communities. These food systems are said to be among the world's most sustainable, due to their efficiency, avoidance of waste and the way they adapt to the seasons. However, climate change is causing issues like drought, wildlife extinction and major migration from rural to urban areas among indigenous communities. During the summertime soils are probably drier, which reduces evaporation, also moisture in the atmosphere and precipitation. Further fire mediates the responses of forests to climate change, either by accelerating species turnover or by selecting fire-adapted species (Overpeck et al. 1990). Indigenous populations typically live outside in nature rather than in cities, cultivating and producing a large portion of the food and other necessities for their survival. As a result, they have incredibly detailed knowledge of the local climate as well as plant and animal life. The traditional wisdom on matters such as when to plant crops or where to hunt for food has been accumulated over many generations, but now that the climate is shifting, some of those understandings are proving to be no longer valid. The deleterious effects of climate change are manifold; one consequence being that its increasing severity endangers numerous communities across the globe. The conversion of land into biofuel crop plantations only exacerbates these threats further, placing even more individuals in peril. As we witness continued declines in forest biodiversity due to unfettered anthropogenic forces like these, it becomes clear that certain communities will soon face difficulties securing critical resources. Climate change effectively exacerbates the pre-existing issues Indigenous peoples face, such as economic and political marginalization, discrimination, unemployment and human rights violations. As a result of job unpredictability, many indigenous people have relocated to cities. It exposes indigenous people to risks of discrimination, loss of identity and exploitation. Moving to an urban area is no guarantee of secured employment, either, due to the specifications of many indigenous peoples’ skills and the lack of support they receive.

Traditional House with mud and Mangalore tile roofing and its utilisation. Credit: Shweta Chaudhary

Given how essential agriculture is for human sustenance and economic well-being, it is troubling that changes in climate increasingly threaten this vital sector every day. Extreme heatwaves during summers and flooding from heavy rain can destroy crops or disrupt supply chains leading to higher demand relative to scarce availability for food products resulting in soaring market costs worldwide. The impacts expected from these challenges could be particularly grave for indigenous communities who often depend extensively on subsistence farming for their livelihoods. According to current projections, close to 13 million individuals from this population segment could be driven into extreme poverty by the year 2030 due to lower crop yields and increased food expenses, particularly in the Asian continent. This alarming trend could potentially affect over one-fourth of the indigenous population of Jharkhand, which raises significant concerns about their well-being.


Climate change affects social determinants of health-clean air, safe drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. With projected temperature fluctuations and changes in rainfall patterns along with extreme weather events including droughts, climate change will significantly challenge public health. With shifting climatic circumstances, the burden of illnesses in central India, particularly Jharkhand, is expected to rise. While the whole of the state is projected to be vulnerable to climate-induced health risks, the indigenous communities residing in rural areas with poor affordability and limited access to health services will be most affected. Malnutrition and other deficiencies increase the vulnerability of the population making them susceptible to health problems. Direct consequences have resulted in restricted access to traditional areas for resources like medicine and food and forced relocation or displacement.

Change in the landscape of traditional building material. Credit: Shweta Chaudhary

Industrial and urban expansion poses a significant threat to the state's already-jeopardized forest and water reserves while contributing to an already unhealthy reliance on mineral-based industries. Additionally, the allocation of such resources varies significantly in time and space, exacerbating existing issues. It was observed during the study that the spread of coal mining activity leads to total destruction of forest cover within the mine area and also leads conversion of surrounding agricultural lands into wastelands dominated by open and dense scrub. (Mishra, Singh, & Jeyaseelan, 2009). Large bodies of stagnant water accumulated in the depression areas of the mine due to the accumulation of surface and groundwater over a period of time indicating a changing geo-hydrological regime with the possible threat of groundwater contamination in potential aquifers passing through the area or located at the lower stratigraphic level. This is directly affecting the tribal communities. They are forced to leave their agricultural lands and their homes. Major displacement of these communities is happening due to the exploitation in the mining regions. The water use footprint of the mining activity is huge. Water footprint calculation of mining activity becomes important due to the fact that through seepages and surface runoffs, mines contribute to damaging (temporarily or permanently) the water bodies in the vicinity. It becomes very difficult for the tribal communities to get a clean water supply and that leads to health problems. Additionally, the economic, social, and legal status of many indigenous groups limits their ability to combat climate change.

Conclusion

The window of opportunity for addressing climate change is gradually narrowing. Indigenous peoples' rights must be maintained, and the decades-long injustice must be addressed and resolved. These people's specialised environmental knowledge is critical in combating climate change. Furthermore, indigenous rights are human rights. All states must act immediately to prioritise climate change and its devastating effects on indigenous populations.

Bibliography

  1. Baird, Rachel. (2008). The Impact of Climate Change on Minorities and Indigenous Peoples (Report No. 978-1-904584-75-9). Minority Rights Group International. climatebriefing2008.qxp (minorityrights.org)

  2. Buhrich, Alice (2010). Literature Review: Climate Change and Indigenous Communities (Report No. ) Christensen Fund. (PDF) Literature Review: climate change and Indigenous communities (researchgate.net)

  3. Stolte, Daniel. How Climate Change Impacts Indigenous Communities, University Communications, The University of Arizona, Oct 28, 2013. How Climate Change Impacts Indigenous Communities | University of Arizona News

  4. Teixeira, Fabio. Climate change threatens age-old indigenous food systems, says UN. Jun 30, 2021, Thomson Reuters Foundation trust.org, How is climate change affecting indigenous communities? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)

  5. Jharkhand- Action Plan on Climate Change, Government of Jharkhand, 2014 http://www.jharenvis.nic.in/WriteReadData/CMS/State%20Action%20Plan%20on%20Climate%20Change_Jharkhand%20(2014).pdf

  6. Sah, Akhilesh. Ali, Naiyar (2017) Impact of Climate change in Palamu Region of Jharkhand, India (Report No. ISSN: 2319-7706) International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences. https://www.academia.edu/71181571/Impact_of_Climate_Change_in_Palamau_Region_of_Jharkhand_India

  7. United Nations (May 2008), Climate Change: The effects of climate change on Indigenous peoples. Department of Economic and Social Affairs Indigenous Peoples. Climate Change | United Nations For Indigenous Peoples

Sushila Murmu works as a Research Associate at the Centre for Energy, Environment and People (CEEP). She holds a degree in Architecture and PG Diploma in Environmental & Sustainable Development. She is passionate about providing sustainable solutions through built forms. She has 3+ years of experience in the field of Heritage Management, Low-Cost Sustainable Housing. She has also been associated with rural communities of Rajasthan and Jharkhand through architectural and communal interventions.

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