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[NEW DELHI] Global climate change is likely to result in severe droughts and floods in India — and have major impacts on human health and food supplies — according to the country's report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

By drying up major river basins and altering rainfall patterns, global warming will significantly affect agriculture and forestry, threatening livelihoods and food security, says the report, which was released last month by India's new environment minister, A. Raja.

The report predicts that maximum temperatures will increase by two to four degrees Celsius over the next 50 years, with northern India expected to experience the greatest increase. This corresponds with claims made earlier this year by scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune (see 'Phenomenal' temperature rises threaten India).

Rainfall patterns are also set to change. Western and central areas could have up to 15 more dry days each year, while in contrast, the north and north-east are predicted to have five to ten more days of rain annually. In other words, dry areas will get drier and wet areas wetter.

The report predicts that the area of India prone to malaria will increase by at least ten per cent by 2080, as changing weather patterns will result in more potential breeding grounds for malarial mosquitoes at higher altitudes.

Most major river basins across the country are likely to become considerably drier, resulting in constant water shortages that will occasionally become acute, the report says. This could shift forest boundaries and affect biodiversity in the regions affected.

In coastal areas, the key climate-related risks include more frequent tropical cyclones and rises in sea level that would submerge mangrove forests and increase the salinity of wetlands. According to the report, if sea levels were to rise by one metre, about 7.1 million people in India could be displaced, and more than 5,000 square kilometres of land and 4,000 kilometres of roads could be lost.

Despite the diversity and extent of threats posed to India by climate change, the report says Indian emissions of greenhouse gases have been "very low". According to Raja, this strengthens India’s negotiating position in various climate change forums.

Speaking at the release of the report, he said that India would continue to meet its development needs, but is concerned about the likely impact of severe floods on its infrastructure, such as roads and railways, as well as the likely increase in electricity needs to pump underground water and cool houses and offices in hot areas.

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