Shedding light on how warming temperatures and crop failure is pushing Indian farmers into poverty and distress, a new research claims that climate change has already caused more than 59,000 suicides in India over the last 30 years.
The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), could help explain India’s evolving suicide epidemic, where suicide rates have nearly doubled since 1980 and claim more than 130,000 lives each year for a variety of causes.
The results indicate that seven per cent of this upward trend can be attributed to warming that has been linked to human activity.
“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,” said study author Tamma Carleton, a doctoral fellow at University of California, Berkeley, US.
“The tragedy is unfolding today. This is not a problem for future generations. This is our problem, right now,” she said in a statement released by the university.
Heat drives crop loss which can cause ripple effects throughout the Indian economy as poor harvests drive up food prices, shrink agricultural jobs and draw on household savings, Carleton said.
During these times, it appears that a staggering number of people, often male heads of household, turn to suicide.
Carleton tested the links between climate change, crop yields and suicide by pairing the numbers for India’s reported suicides in each of its 32 states between 1967 and 2013, using a dataset prepared by the Indian National Crime Records Bureau, along with statistics on India’s crop yields, and high-resolution climate data.
To isolate the types of climate shocks that damage crops, Carleton focused on temperature and rainfall during June through September, a critical period for crop productivity that is based on the average arrival and departure dates of India’s summer monsoon.
Carleton cautioned that her estimates of temperature-linked suicides are probably too low, because deaths in general are underreported in India and because until 2014, national law held that attempted suicide was a criminal offence, further discouraging reporting.