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Rain clouds gather over the future

Mumbai, India Deluge 2007

For India and the world,
the suffering is a warning of worse to come, many scientists say. When the monsoon comes each summer to poor Basahi, an Indian village, it brings misery. Raindrops as wide as nickels fall straight and hard. They pool in fields and churn dirt lanes into mud. But this year's monsoon rains were THE HEAVIEST ANYONE CAN REMEMBER in India's northeastern Bihar state. Something has changed, they say, and their fears are confirmed by many in the scientific community who say India's floods are getting worse as global warming alters the earth's climate. In the past, the rains were always interrupted by glimpses of the sun. But this year 20 straight days of rain dumped 91.44cm of water, A RECORD for most of the state. Together with increased run-off from glaciers in Tibet and Nepal, the water swelled the local Budhigandak River and in early August it breached a levee and sent giant waves crashing through the village of Basahi, killing 22 people and adding to a death toll of more than a thousand in Bihar. As the earth has heated over the past century due to global warming, evaporation has increased and the atmosphere has become wetter, leading to heavier storms and more floods. Globally, the number of floods have increased six-fold since 1980. This year, flooding affected more than 250 million people. Many scientists link global warming with recent record-breaking floods in the US Midwest, England and Mexico, where five days of torrential rains in November left most of the state of Tabasco under water and damaged the homes of nearly a million people. But with a four-month monsoon season and millions of poor farmers, India and neighbouring Bangladesh are arguably the world's nations most at risk to increased flooding. To some observers, the impacts of climate change on flooding already are obvious. Evidence suggests that India has experienced a shift in where floods occur as parts of the country have warmed faster than others and weather patterns have changed. While monsoon rains had been very predictable in the past, rainfall in recent years has become more variable. Regions that were not prone to droughts and floods are now prone to them. In India's northwestern Rajasthan state, five districts that were flooded for more than two months last year had never experienced flooding. Meanwhile, India's northeastern Assam state remained mostly dry between 2004 and 2006 but used to be under water for four or five months every year. There has been a shift in the climate cycle. Society needs to be made aware and change in a big way.

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