Climate change could increase threat of unrest in India

Published: 23 September 2014 at 14:18

Anglia Ruskin report examines how it is ‘threat multiplier’ to risk of violent conflict

A new report focusing on India’s vulnerability to “climate conflict”, due to climate change impacts on India’s already stressed water resources, has been released today.

India already experiences high levels of water stress in agriculturally important river basins. Furthermore, rapid economic and population growth means demand for water in India is growing faster than available supply.  

India’s rivers are mainly monsoon and glacial melt fed making them vulnerable to the impacts of climate change such as changes in seasonal rainfall and retreating glaciers.

The study, produced by the Global Sustainability Institute at Anglia Ruskin University, looks at the specific socio-political, economic, cultural and environmental characteristics of the Cauvery and Indus catchments and the potential for both climate change and scarcity of natural resources to destabilise social and political systems.

In the report, the Arab Spring is referred to as an example of where climate change, drought, water mismanagement and food prices have contributed to the outbreak of civil unrest.  

Water availability is closely tied to food production and with India’s population expected to reach 1.4 billion by 2050, the country could face a “perfect storm” of challenges.

The Cauvery is a monsoon-fed river in southern India, serving the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, and has a history of water-sharing agreements dating back to 1892.  A weak start to this year’s monsoon saw farmers from both states hold public protests regarding the water agreement.

The Indus River relies on glacial melt from the Himalayas for up to half of its flow making it highly sensitive to climate change.  Straddling both Northern India and Pakistan, the Indus river basin, home to a population of more than a quarter of a billion, is affected by water stresses due to poor water management, inefficient agricultural practices, soil salinisation, inadequate infrastructure, variability in water availability and water pollution. 

Dr Aled Jones, Director of Anglia Ruskin University’s Global Sustainability Institute, said:

“Although unlikely to be the primary cause of violent conflict, natural resource scarcity and climate change can be a catalyst that exacerbates simmering tensions and existing conditions for instability. 
“A decreased availability of water and a rise in food prices in already water-stressed regions can create the perfect storm for civil unrest and conflict.
“Climate change, population increase and water mismanagement stresses on the Indus are therefore a relevant factor in the ongoing peace negotiations between India and Pakistan.  The Cauvery River catchment demonstrates the genuine risk of climate change impacting India’s stability.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders to today’s UN Climate Summit in order to galvanise and catalyse global climate action.