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Rising Water Level: A Perspective on Sea Level Rise and its Impact on Indian Coast

Model output showing rise in water level for different scenario over Velankanni, Tamil Nadu

Sea level rise (SLR) is a critical issue that threatens the coastal regions of India. As the global average sea level rises, it exacerbates the vulnerability of low-lying regions and small islands, causing severe coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, and flooding. These impacts can have devastating effects on communities, economies, and ecosystems.

The Indian subcontinent is particularly vulnerable to sea level rise due to its long coastline of about 7500 sqkm. Out of the 1.28 billion total population, around 560 million people lives in coastal states and union territories. A vast population, including both urban and rural coastal cities, as well as a broad range of economic activities, such as agriculture, fishing, and tourism, can be found along the country's coastline. As sea levels continue to rise at an alarming rate, these areas are becoming more vulnerable to catastrophic floods, erosion, and other sorts of coastal catastrophe.

Sea levels along the Indian coast have risen by 8.5 cm's during the past 50 years, and scientific prediction suggests that 36 million Indians are likely to be living in areas experiencing chronic flooding by 2100. The main contributor to sea level rise is the warming of the climate brought on by the combustion of fossil fuels, which releases greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere. As the temperature rises, the glaciers and polar ice caps melt, releasing more water into the oceans and accelerating the rise of sea levels. The Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Mahanadi rivers' low-lying delta regions in India are the most severely impacted places. Due to the sea level rise, the monsoon season flooding that currently occurs in these places will become unmanageable for both rural and urban residents. The island nations of Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar are also extremely vulnerable to sea level rise.

Relocating communities from hazard-prone areas is a potentially important adaptation option if properly managed to providing alternatives to physical protection. However, relocation programs face many challenges given the large scale of projected displacement and the problems inherent with resettling entire communities. In the three cases presented here, relocation has been undertaken in view of the threat from coastal inundation, flooding, and sea-level rise. Overall, current local and regional policies are not adequate to deal with the challenges of migration and displacement arising from sea rise. The displacement has been addressed mostly as a post-disaster response, while there is a need for more forward-looking national and local polices on pre-emptive managed retreat for at-risk coastal populations.

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