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About 60,000 Farmer Suicides In India Linked To Climate Change: Study

With an increase of 1C on an average day during the growing season, there are 67 more suicides, illustrates the study, showing the extreme sensitivity of the Indian agricultural ecosystem to temperature spikes

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According to a new research by University of California, Berkeley, almost 60,000 farmer suicides in the last three decades could be attributed to climate change and rise in temperature, which was analysed as to its effect on vulnerable societies.

The study, by Tamma A. Carleton called “Crop-damaging temperatures increase suicide rates in India”, demonstrates “that the climate, particularly temperature, has strong influence over a growing suicide epidemic.” The study shows that “high temperatures increase suicide rates, but only during India’s growing season, when heat also reduces crop yields”.

With an increase of 1C on an average day during the growing season, there are 67 more suicides, illustrates the study, showing the extreme sensitivity of the Indian agricultural ecosystem to temperature spikes. An increase of 5C on an average day during the growing season is associated with an additional 335 deaths, the study found, which was published in PNAS journal (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

Overall, 59,300 agricultural sector suicides over the past three decades could be attributed to warming, the study estimates. For the study, researcher Tamma Carleton looked at suicide data from India's National Crime Records Bureau between 1967 and 2013, along with data on agricultural crop yields and on temperature change.

Outside the growing season however, increases in temperatures showed no significant impact on the rate of suicides, implying that stress on the agriculture sector was the main source of suicide increase. On the other hand, the research supports the theory that a 1cm increase in rainfall each year was linked to a 7 per cent decrease in suicide rates. Strong rainfall was really beneficial, reducing suicide rates for the next 2 years, Carleton found in the study.

Last year, farmer suicides decreased but remained at an epidemic level in some state, causing pressure on legislators. In Maharashtra, a drought-hit state, there were 852 farmer suicides in the first four months of the year, while in 2015, about 12,602 farmers killed themselves. Carleton said her research showed little evidence Indian farmers were changing their practices to accommodate rising temperatures.

“Without interventions that help families adapt to a warmer climate, it’s likely we will see a rising number of lives lost to suicide as climate change worsens in India,” Carleton said.

She noted limitations in the study, including an inability to differentiate between urban and rural suicides because the crime records bureau only began classifying farmer suicides in 1995. Other experts also noted that the actual number of suicides may be higher than the crime database counted, but said these concerns were unlikely to undermine the study's core findings.

Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh told lawmakers on Thursday that there were 11,458 farmer suicides in 2016—the lowest number in two decades. It was also a year of mild temperatures and normal monsoon rains. For the past month, hundreds of farmers — some carrying human skulls they say are from farmers who committed suicide in the drought-stricken southern state of Tamil Nadu — have been staging what they say will be a 100-day protest in a central New Delhi square to "prevent the suicide of farmers who feed the nation."

Heat drives crop loss, Carleton contends, which can cause ripple effects throughout the Indian economy as poor harvests drive up food prices, shrink agricultural jobs and draw on household savings. During these times, it appears that a staggering number of people, often male heads of household, turn to suicide.

“It was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm themselves,” Carleton says. “But learning that the desperation is economic means that we can do something about this. The right policies could save thousands”

“Without interventions that help families adapt to a warmer climate, it’s likely we will see a rising number of lives lost to suicide as climate change worsens in India,” Carleton says. “The tragedy is unfolding today. This is not a problem for future generations. This is our problem, right now,” she says.


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