Thursday, Feb 09, 2023 07:45 [IST]

Last Update: Thursday, Feb 09, 2023 02:05 [IST]

Trees to the rescue

From extreme heat waves in Japan to devastating floods in Pakistan, the environmental challenges of today's globalised world frequently include extreme weather conditions. Most countries of the world are suffering from extreme weather patterns. India’s condition is also not so different. From the heavy rainfall in northeastern regions to heat waves and simultaneous droughts in Central India, we are experiencing the changing weather conditions. These all-natural disasters are directly associated with the climate. 2022 was Europe’s hottest summer on record, leading to more than 20,000 excess deaths across western Europe, and this summer could be even worse with the return of El Niño.

In India, the summers have already become hotter, with some parts routinely recording temperatures around 47°C. According to data released by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India, over 4,620 deaths in India in the previous four years have been attributed to heat waves. According to the India Meteorological Department, the strong storm that struck northern India in May 2018 was caused by global warming, and its frequency may rise. By the end of April 2022, 70% of India had been affected by the hot, dry weather that had persisted all month. May also didn’t offer any relief. Up until September 21, there was 18% less rainfall than usual.

In the northern region of India, the increase in ground surface temperature would be more noticeable. According to a recent study, if the global temperature rises by more than 2°C, summers could persist for up to 8 months in the Gangetic Plain by 2070. Heat waves that are more intense and frequent have the potential to significantly raise mortality and death rates. Drought effects are made worse by warmer circumstances, water scarcity, and other factors.

Avalanches, cyclones, droughts, floods, and landslides are the greatest threats to human life and belongings. Continual dust storms in the summer season and hailing are also the major causes of damaging the crops and the property.

The effects may be felt most in our cities, which are on average 1.5° Celsius warmer than surrounding areas due to so-called urban heat islands (UHIs). That’s when building materials (concrete, asphalt, metal) and machinery (cars, trucks, air-conditioners) absorb and produce heat, turning city blocks into baking ovens. The heat is just one way in which cities can be unhealthy places to live; 4.3% of premature deaths in cities during the summer months are attributable to UHIs.

Plenty of solutions exist, but there’s one powerful tool at our disposal that could help cool cities, reduce pollution and improve our mental and physical health: trees. A new study published in The Lancet shows that increasing tree canopy cover to 30% of the city could reduce premature summer deaths in cities by about 40%, by reducing the temperatures through a combination of shading, evaporating water and removing sources of heat such as concrete and asphalt.

Making our cities more livable and sustainable will involve a lot of difficult decisions, about more than plant life. But considering trees can take decades to grow, we should get planting now.


Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi