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Study: Farmer Suicides Increase Because of Climate Change

2017-08-12

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[00:00.00]
  • When Rani’s husband took his own life, he left his family with debts they could not pay.
  • [00:07.21]
  • Rani’s family farms in southern India.
  • [00:11.44]
  • Now, she says her family’s farming days are over.
  • [00:16.34]
  • “There are no rains,” Rani said.
  • [00:20.53]
  • Rani is a 44-year-old woman from Tamil Nadu state.
  • [00:26.46]
  • She was one of hundreds of farmers protesting in the capital New Delhi for increased government support for farmers.
  • [00:36.33]
  • Her state has been affected by drought.
  • [00:40.11]
  • “Even for drinking, we get water only once in 10 days,” she said.
  • [00:46.89]
  • A recently released study suggests that more tragedies like Rani’s will happen.
  • [00:54.74]
  • Higher temperatures are damaging crops and worsening droughts, the study says.
  • [01:02.00]
  • It argues that the temperature and the number of people who take their lives are linked.
  • [01:10.30]
  • It states that for every one degree above 20 degrees Celsius on any day during the growing season, an average of about 70 suicides take place.
  • [01:25.61]
  • The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS.
  • [01:35.41]
  • Scientists predict that the worldwide average temperature could rise up to 3 degrees by 2050.
  • [01:45.41]
  • With hotter weather, more droughts and stronger storms are likely to take place.
  • [01:54.91]
  • In addition, extreme weather changes could become more common.
  • [02:01.08]
  • These changes could affect Indian farmers who depend on good weather for income.
  • [02:08.99]
  • Tamma Carleton was the author of the study.
  • [02:14.00]
  • She is a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies agriculture and resource economics.
  • [02:24.13]
  • Carleton looked at numbers from India’s National Crime Records Bureau.
  • [02:29.85]
  • She compared the number of people who took their own lives between 1967 and 2013 with other information on agricultural crops and temperature changes.
  • [02:45.30]
  • Carleton estimated that hotter temperatures over the last 30 years “have already been responsible for over 59,000 suicides throughout India.”
  • [03:00.91]
  • The study said that hotter temperatures were one of the reasons why there was a 6.8 percent increase in the number of people who took their own lives in India over 30 years.
  • [03:19.15]
  • Vikram Patel is a psychiatrist and mental health expert with Harvard Medical School.
  • [03:27.89]
  • Although he was not involved with the study, he helped write India’s first national mental health policy.
  • [03:37.19]
  • Patel said farming is a risky job.
  • [03:42.23]
  • He said the amount a farmer earns depends on the weather.
  • [03:47.56]
  • And farming gets riskier with climate change.
  • [03:52.06]
  • Patel said anything that affects their job negatively will affect farmers’ mental health.
  • [04:01.24]
  • India has 1.3 billion people. For half of those people, agriculture is their source of income.
  • [04:12.53]
  • Although farmers are an important part of Indian society, they have been struggling economically over the last 30 years.
  • [04:23.35]
  • Usually there is not a single reason for a person to take his or her own life.
  • [04:31.35]
  • But, some reasons include losing crops, debt, poverty or a lack of community support.
  • [04:40.18]
  • Farmers with a lot of debt may take their own lives so the government, in some cases, would give money to their families.
  • [04:50.29]
  • “We may not be able to stop the world from warming, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do something to address suicide,” Patel said.
  • [05:00.41]
  • He said financial support and increased attention to mental health could help deal with the issue.
  • [05:09.51]
  • Howard Frumkin is an environmental and occupational health professor at the University of Washington. He was also not involved in the study.
  • [05:23.52]
  • Frumkin said the study shows that unfavorable weather leads to less crops, rural misery and more people taking their own lives.
  • [05:36.86]
  • India’s farms are regularly being hit by strong storms, extreme drought and heat waves.
  • [05:47.75]
  • This kind of weather is going to increase with higher temperatures.
  • [05:53.73]
  • Some farmers in India still depend on rainfall instead of irrigation to water their crops.
  • [06:03.35]
  • India’s farmers have held many protests for better crop prices,
  • [06:10.00]
  • more help with loan repayments and water delivery systems among other issues.
  • [06:17.62]
  • Such systems would help guarantee irrigation during droughts.
  • [06:24.32]
  • Many farmers said they believe they have been ignored.
  • [06:30.17]
  • Some are protesting at government offices and some have dumped large amounts of vegetables on roads to block traffic to bring attention to their situation.
  • [06:44.02]
  • In the past month, hundreds of farmers have been protesting in a central New Delhi square.
  • [06:51.76]
  • Some are holding human skulls that they say are from other farmers who have taken their own lives in Tamil Nadu.
  • [07:02.40]
  • They say it will be a 100-day protest.
  • [07:07.06]
  • They say they are protesting to “prevent the suicide of farmers who feed the nation.”
  • [07:15.57]
  • On July 27, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh told lawmakers that 11,458 farmers took their own lives in 2016.
  • [07:33.28]
  • That is the lowest number in 20 years.
  • [07:37.55]
  • That year also had good temperatures and normal seasonal rains.
  • [07:44.78]
  • Singh noted that for 2014 and 2015, the number of farmers who took their own lives increased by 9 percent.
  • [07:56.98]
  • Those two years had a drought.
  • [08:00.10]
  • The number of farmers who took their own lives reached 12,602 in 2015.
  • [08:09.61]
  • Some reasons included financial failure, debt and other farming issues.
  • [08:16.99]
  • Most of the people were farmers with less than two hectares of land.
  • [08:22.94]
  • M. S. Swaminathan is a geneticist who is known for creating India’s Green Revolution in the 1960s.
  • [08:34.30]
  • That was a movement to greatly increase agricultural productivity.
  • [08:41.20]
  • He said, “Suicides occur due to extreme economic despair.”
  • [08:48.37]
  • Swaminathan has carried out research suggesting that small temperature changes can hurt crop harvests.
  • [08:58.37]
  • The M S Swaminathan Research Foundation works to solve farming problems related to climate change.
  • [09:09.30]
  • Some of these include rising heat, drought and increasing salt levels in soil because of rising sea levels.
  • [09:21.05]
  • Swaminathan said better crop insurance and quick compensation for crops lost to climate change “will help to avoid a sense of hopelessness that leads to suicide.”
  • [09:37.54]
  • I’m Mario Ritter.
  • [09:39.44]
  • And I’m Olivia Liu.
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