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Historic Flooding in India Shows Destructiveness of Climate Change

December 2015

Monsoon rains are a key part of the ecosystem in India, with whole regions depending on the seasonal monsoons for their water throughout the year. But this season’s monsoon brought a downpour of historic magnitude in the state of Tamil Nadu, destroying tens of thousands of homes and livelihoods.

This is what the destructiveness of climate change looks like.

Tamil Nadu usually gets around 13 inches of rain in the summer and around 18 inches of rain in the fall. This year following average summer rains came unprecedented rainfall starting in late October, and it just didn’t let up. In just a single day in early December Tamil Nadu received an unbelievable 21 inches of rain.

While Tamil Nadu was experiencing this historic flood – the heaviest in more than 100 years – heads of state from around the world were meeting in Paris for the COP21 to discuss climate change. These talks resulted in no binding commitments to reduce the use of fossil fuels or to stop temperatures from rising above the key threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius. The United States made it clear from the beginning that they would not participate if a binding commitment was involved.

Our ally in Tamil Nadu, the Women’s Collective has been building a movement of small-scale women farmers for over 20 years, empowering women in villages to create cooperative farms, demand their right to access to land, implement ecological farming practices, win local elections, and build resiliency in the face of climate change. The organization’s membership spreads over 15 districts of Tamil Nadu covering nearly 1000 villages. In 2013 the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collected was awarded the Food Sovereignty Prize Honorable Mention.

With these floods, the office of the Women’s Collective in the state capital of Chennai was damaged and the homes of many members were damaged. At least 150 villages where they work were affected.

In Chennai the waters have started to recede, leaving behind major sanitation and infrastructure problems due to the flooding. A statement released by the Women’s Collective describes the situation: “There are so many inundated areas in the city, on the fringes and outside the city which are yet to be accessed by the municipal workers. These have to be drained and dry up first before the muck is handled.”

Farmlands had their crops and top soil from destroyed from the relentless rains. “People have lost their standing crop. The top soil has been washed away and the agricultural laborers are going to be left without employment till the next agricultural season. The farmers are going to find it difficult to start new,” the Women’s Collective statement said.

The Women’s Collective is currently doing emergency relief work to address needs for water, shelter, food and sanitation, and to help organize women farmers to rehabilitate the lands damaged in the flood. They plan to assist their members in recovering their land by delivering manure and implementing ecological farming techniques. They see this as an opportunity to talk about natural farming to more people and to strengthen their movement.

Inside the COP21 talks, the massive flooding in India, and the rising sea levels and disappearing island nations in the Pacific, were not met with the urgent action they deserve. When added up, the non-binding commitments fall well below what’s needed to turn things around. But while politicians were meeting inside the COP21, thousands of people from social movements were meeting in Paris too, calling out the leaders for failing to protect people and the planet.

And these movements are not waiting around for elected officials to catch up. In a parallel conference, civil society movements met, strategized, and flooded the streets – with people – to demand real solutions. This was the real victory of these climate talks.

Grassroots International is supporting on-the-ground efforts in Tamil Nadu to recover from the historic flood. Please click here to stand with us in rebuilding Tamil Nadu and advancing local, sustainable alternatives to industrial agriculture there.

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