The socio-economic context and changing climatic conditions in West Champaran

‘Crime, caste and cost [bribery] are push factors for poverty and vulnerabilities in Bihar’ is a local aphorism. Together with climatic stressors, vulnerabilities for some groups of people in West Champaran are rooted in histories of social discrimination and domination.

West Champaran shares a border with Nepal and criminal activities in the area are facilitated by an easy escape across the border. Land ownership is skewed: much of the land is in the hands of a few landlords owning more than 20 ha, who align across a strict caste-based hierarchy. According to the Agriculture Census of 2015-16 (Figure 3.3), 97 per cent of landholders are small and marginal, owning 74 per cent of the land in West Champaran, while the remaining 3 per cent own 26 per cent, i.e., almost one-third of the land (Government of India 2012). Historically, strong caste-based disparities, the zamindari system and colonization by the British of indigo plantations have created a structure of domination and inequality in the area. Although the zamindari system was abolished and the Land Ceiling Act came into force after independence, skewed land relations persist, indicating the continuation of socio-economic inequality. There is a lower proportion of women landowners in Bihar than the national average of 11 per cent (Rao 2011). A recent study in two districts of Bihar found that only 7 per cent of women are landowners (Golder 2017).

The 2015-16 National Health Survey of West Champaran district shows the low status of women in rural areas (Government of India 2017). The literacy rate for women was 40 per cent, far less than for men (70 per cent).

Pipra-Piprasi Embankment in Gandak River. Study area plotted with estimation, with respect to GPS map in HI-AWARE (2017)

Figure 3.2 Pipra-Piprasi Embankment in Gandak River. Study area plotted with estimation, with respect to GPS map in HI-AWARE (2017).

Source: Adapted by authors from Government of Bihar (2015), HI-AWARE (2017).

Disparities in Landownership in West Champaran. Agriculture Census, 2016

Figure 3.3 Disparities in Landownership in West Champaran. Agriculture Census, 2016.

Only 12 per cent of women had ten or more years of schooling. Early marriage was widespread. In the rural areas 23 per cent of girls aged 15-19 were either pregnant or already married with children. In addition, 42 per cent of children under five were underweight. Anaemia was widespread: 63 per cent of children aged between 6 months and 5 years, 57 per cent of women and 27 per cent of men between 15 and 49 were anaemic. The caste system continues to thrive in society, regulating all social practices related to birth, marriage, death and various other rituals. Caste-based discrimination still prevails. A strong son preference is common. In rural areas, the sex ratio is 936 women per 1,000 men while the child sex ratio (children under five) is 870 girls per 1,000 boys according to the 2011 Census (Government of India 2017).

Against this backdrop of continuing structural inequality and deprivation, changing climatic conditions are starting to impact West Cham- paran. An analysis of monthly rainfall data by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) during 2013-15 indicates a shortfall in rainfall in West Champaran. Climate data for the area downstream of the Gandaki basin, including West Champaran, over 1981-2010 shows a slightly declining trend with respect to the intensity of rainfall for different thresholds, but none of them were significant (HI-AWARE 2017).1

The climatic modelling data found a significant increase in temperature over the last 30 years. A scenario for 2050 reveals that regions downstream of the basin, including West Champaran, will be warmer. Currently, the minimum temperature in the Gandaki basin tends to be below 30° Celsius (C). Under the highest Representative Concentration Pathways (RCP) scenario calculated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - the 8.5 RCP scenario - areas around Gandak, including West Champaran, will experience heat stress for 1-20 days a year with a minimum temperature of 30° C and possibly more drought (HI-AWARE 2017).

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