The death toll in Assam has risen to 126 and thousands are marooned as the states faces its worst floods in 122 years. Houses have been washed away, fields have submerged, and cities and villages are inundated.
But why is this happening? You probably already have a clue. You might be thinking of poor disaster management or bad city planning? Of course those things play a huge role. But it takes more than that to cause the worst floods in over a century, such large-scale devastation and unprecedented mayhem.
This time on The Climate Change Dictionary, I am breaking down how climate change it is connected to Assam floods.
These floods are yet another reminder for all of us, that climate change is real, it is here and is ravaging lives, livelihoods, food and water security, and disrupting flora and fauna, agriculture and industries alike.
The Scale of Floods in the Northeast
And this is not limited to northeast India. At least 12 northeastern and northern districts in Bangladesh are currently reeling from a devastating flood.
Rivers are flowing at historic high water levels and might soon set new records in the seven northeastern states and West Bengal, Sikkim, Bihar, and Jharkhand.
On 17 June, in 24 hours, Cherrapunji in Meghalaya received 972 mm of precipitation, just two days after recording 811.6 mm of rainfall in a day, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
On 16 June 1995, Cherrapunji logged 1,563.3 mm of rainfall after receiving 930 mm of rainfall the day before. The wettest place in India, Mawsynram, gauged 710.6 mm of rainfall in 24 hours on 15 June 2022, the highest rainfall in a day since June 1966.
Usually when it rains heavily over Arunachal Pradesh and east Assam, flooding is mainly confined to Assam only.
However, this time heavy rains concentrated over West Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura that inundated Brahmaputra River.
Besides landslides and flash flooding incidences in Meghalaya and Assam, the water eventually flows down to Bangladesh, adding to the flooding woes there as well, say experts.
Global Warming Is Contributing to Heavy Rainfall Events Leading to Flash Floods
Climate change means a warmer climate. These strong monsoon winds in the Bay of Bengal can carry a lot more moisture than ever, in response to global warming.
Because of global warming, the strong monsoon winds in the Bay of Bengal can carry a lot more moisture than ever. This is because warmer air holds more moisture, and that too for a longer time.
"Hence, the large amount of rainfall that we see now might be a climate change impact."Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, the Lead Author of IPCC Oceans and Cryosphere.
We are looking at changing patterns of the south Asian rainfall which are characteristically spread out throughout the season. Now the season stays largely dry with heavy spells of rainfall.
"Every half-degree rise matters to the world. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) mentions, this trajectory is projected to rise further unless we take immediate preparations and act now," said Dr Saiful Islam, IPCC author, Director IWFM.
Climate Change Is Changing Flooding Patterns
There has been a climatic shift in monsoon patterns over South Asia since the 1950s, said Dr Roxy, explaining that the monsoon season is now fragmented into long dry periods, broken by spells of heavy rain.
"For every 1-degree Celsius rise in temperatures, the total amount of rainfall will increase by 7%, up to 10% in the monsoonal region."Dr Roxy Mathew Koll, Lead Author, IPCC Oceans and Cryosphere.
The nature of flooding has also changed over the years. We now have huge floodings right at the beginning of the monsoon, which was not the case a few decades ago.
"Not only that, the total volume has increased over the years, and there Is rainfall almost six to seven times in one month. We must prepare for this unpredictable flooding," said Dr Islam.
Climate Change Is Making Flood Events Like These More Frequent & Intense
The intensity and frequency of natural disasters are rising and will further increase in the future. The IPCC report also reiterates that the situation will keep getting worse unless strong mitigation steps are taken.
"We can already see excessive and untimely rainfalls in larger volumes in short time spans. Previously, we have witnessed cyclones and storm surges such as Aila, Amphan, and Cidr."said Prof Ainun Nishat, Centre for Climate Change and Environmental Research, BRAC University.
However, Dr Huq mentioned, "The losses will almost certainly increase inequality as the poorest people will be worst affected. Moreover, as these floods are occurring in both Bangladesh as well as India and thus the cross bordar impacts will be severe."
(This story contains inputs from Climate Trends, a climate communication initiative.)