Climate change will affect pregnancies in coastal India

April 2nd, 2008 - 10:55 am ICT by admin  

By Prashant K. Nanda
New Delhi, April 2 (IANS) A rise in sea levels due to global warming will force people in India’s coastal areas to drink salty water, thus affecting pregnant women and their unborn children, says a scientist associated with the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “Global warming will increase the sea level and engulf the coastal belt. Since India has a long coastline, the impact here will be severe,” said Anthony J. McMichael of the Australian National University, Canberra.

“There will be a severe problem of potable water and people will drink salty water. This will adversely impact pregnancy in coastal India,” McMichael told IANS in an interview.

He was in Delhi last week to deliver the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) foundation day lecture.

The Indian coastline stretches over 7,500 km and touches around eight states and two island territories. States with a coastline include Orissa, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra.

According to IPCC reports, a sea level rise of between 15 cm and 38 cm will displace tens of thousands of people in the country’s coastline and make drinking water a major threat to states bordering the Indian Ocean.

“The extra intake of salt through drinking water will lead to high blood pressure mainly during the last three-four months (of pregnancy). It has the potential to make deliveries difficult,” he said.

“Salt is associated with heart problem as well and the sea water exposure may affect the normal life cycle of an unborn baby. The baby may develop complications after birth,” he warned.

He said a group of British scientists had carried out a survey in Bangladesh and found that the surge in sea level had started affecting pregnant women there.

“We don’t have any research data in India, but the situation will not be much different. I think India needs to develop research capacity to tackle the climate change issue.

“We know the earth’s temperature is increasing and our glaciers are melting. The Himalayan glaciers and Antarctica are losing their ice base,” said the environmentalist, who is also co-chairman of the Global Environmental Change and Human Health project of the International Council of Science.

He said India has enough health problems and any addition to it will be a burden on the country’s economy.

“Environmental changes will cast an increasingly long shadow over future population health unless we effectively communicate these health risks and help society shape a sustainable way of living,” said the professor.

Scientists say besides affecting crops and the drinking water problem, global warming will aggravate vector-borne diseases like dengue, malaria and chikungunya in India.

“We have seen the malaria problem in Rajasthan, dengue problem in Delhi and the chikungunya problem in many southern Indian states. We should take them as indicators of future problems,” said Rais Akhtar, an environmental scientist who also worked with IPCC.

The IPCC, which is headed by Indian environmental scientist Rajendra Pachauri, got the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. The organisation shared the award with climate campaigner and former US vice president Al Gore.

(Prashant K. Nanda can be contacted at

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