Climate Change and The Eroding Coastal Communities

Photo credits: Rahul

India being one of those countries with very high coastline with around I8000million km of coastline homing 260 million people (1/3rd of the Indian population), comprising of around 3288 marine fishing villages and 1.511 marine fish landing centers. The majority of the coastal community are from Below Poverty Line background (around 61% of the community) employing around 4 million people on fishing and allied activities as its major livelihood option.

According to the United Nations, coastal communities are one of the most vulnerable community to climate change due to their direct reliance on the goods and services provided by the marine ecosystem. The effects of the climate change in recent decades have further superimposed stressors to already vulnerable community- thus leading to an increase in the vulnerability of the community. Thus, it is necessary to look into how climate change have increased the vulnerability of the community, while at the same time discussing some measures that could be done to improve the resilience of the community.

What does Resilience and resilient community mean:

The word Resilience originates from the Latin word resiliens, which refers to the pliant or elastic quality of substance. According to Perry (2002) Resilience refers to the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance in the society and reorganize, while organizing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity and feedbacks. Such that resilient communities are capable of handling surprises, and are able to learn from disturbance and stress and find opportunities for renewal.

Being one of those means of livelihood that he is highly susceptible to climate change it is imperative to look into what are major stress that have increased on the community as part of the climate change.

Major stressors due to climate action:

Just like rest of the world within the Indian subcontinent also global warming have led to warming of oceans which further led to increase in sea level (15-38 cm rise by 2050 and affect 5,763 km of the coastal area in the country). This thermal expansion of sea water due to global warming- has led to floods, sporadic variation in precipitation, frequent storm surges, cyclones and other forms of natural disasters in the coastal region. Adding to it, the increased coastal erosion has further increased the amount of sewage and waste entering the coastal waters and thus increasing the level of ammonia in the water (especially in case of low swampy area), booming the pollution of sea waters and affecting the fish population and livestock within the ocean. Climate change have also led to reduced access to common fishing grounds, massive changes in the availability of certain fishes, increasing natural barrier and major destructions to the equipment's used by fisherman who are going deep into the ocean and thus increasing the vulnerability of the coastal community.

In addition to the impact that climate change has on the livelihood aspect of the coastal community, it has also majorly impacted the infrastructure within the coastal areas. This infrastructure ranges from small scale houses of the people in coastal community, to major offices and industries in sea shore. According to the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, natural disasters along the Indian coast have led to a loss of around $80 billion (between 1998 and 2017) on infrastructural damage itself, and this sum is assumed to go up even higher with time.

Resilience improving measures:

Given that coastal community is one that is facing multiple stress and shock, for the community to constantly survive and reach a new layer of “normality” there should be a certain systems or measures that should be kept in place for increasing the resilience of the community. Now, we would be looking into some of the measures that could be implemented in order to increase the resilience of the community.

  • Diversification of livelihood opportunities: Livelihood diversification is an important angle of poverty reduction, a coping/survival strategy, and becomes even more effective in areas where there is a decline in the available resources or there is decline in access to resources. Given that the fisherman community is one such community facing such constraints, being employed in multiple job reduces the number of stressors in the community as when there is shock in one employment area, other employment areas would reduce the effect of shock on the community and thus increasing the overall resilience of the community. In order to increase the prospective livelihood opportunities to the community research and studies should be done on major areas of fishing allied activities that could be done, tourism related opportunities that could be used. This could be done by increasing the range of fishing related livelihood opportunities, fishing allied activities, utilization of traditional resources and local resources in order to create new livelihood opportunities.

  • Community mobilization and utilization of traditional knowledge and local techniques while at the same time increasing awareness and nurturing the community’s abilities to deal with stress and thus assisting the community to deal with climate change.

  • Increasing Disaster management systems within the coastal line: One of the major ways in which the climate change have been affecting the coastal community is through the increasing frequency of disasters. The aspect of disaster management is being conducted on the fronts of prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response. While major developments have been done on the area of preparedness in the form of early warning systems across India, all other areas there requires major strides to be made so as to reduce the amount of shock that is created on a community due to a disaster.

  • Detailed study on the effect of climate change on coastal community needs to be conducted:- Although there have been studies on the stressors on coastal community these have been limited to the effect that climate change has made on the livelihood front of the community. Whereas, other areas like health and mental health (especially fear and uncertainty) are understudied and thus is neglected. However, this uncertainty along with the ‘lack of knowledge on climate change’, ‘why and how the sea is changing due to climate change’ is further affecting the resilience of community and is leading to major relocation of the community away from the coast. Thus, there needs to be major studies conducted on these topics and supporting structures should be brought in place to increase resilience among these fronts.

  • Climate resilient infrastructure in coastal areas: Increasing the drainage capacity of rivers, improving the flood control structures, construction of the new infrastructure and renovation of existing buildings considering and in accordance with the effect of climate change should be done in order to reduce the effect of climate change induced stressors on the infrastructure and thus reducing the stressors and damage caused on the front.

Being one of those community that constitutes a very large population and comes in the intersection of SDG 11, 13 & 14. Coastal communities are one of the most vulnerable communities, this vulnerability of the community is further escalated by recent changes in the ecosystem due to climate change. Thus, it was imperative to look into how the climate change are increasing the vulnerability of this community and to figure out some of the ways by which the resilience of the community could be increased.