By Rina Chandran
MUMBAI, Aug 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Climate change has led to more than 59,000 farmer suicides in India over the last three decades and rising temperatures could drive the suicide rate up further without government help for farmers, according to a U.S. university study.
University of California Berkeley researcher Tamma Carleton said suicide rates in India have nearly doubled since 1980 and claim more than 130,000 lives every year, with about 7 percent of these attributable to warming linked to human activity.
"It was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm themselves," Carleton said in a statement.
"Without interventions that help families adapt to a warmer climate, it's likely we will see a rising number of lives lost to suicide as climate change worsens in India," she added.
The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found every 1 degree Celsius increase above 20°C (68°F) during the growing season led to about 65 suicides across India.
A 5°C increase had five times that effect, showed the study which focused on the summer monsoon period June-September.
More than half India's population depends on the land for a livelihood.
Tens of thousands of farmers have killed themselves over the last couple of decades in India - by drinking pesticide or hanging themselves - as unseasonal rains and drought led to crop failures, leaving farmers struggling with debt.
More than 12,600 farmers and agricultural workers committed suicide in 2015 alone, accounting for about 10 percent of all suicides in India, according to official data.
Almost 60 percent of suicides were caused by bankruptcy and indebtedness, the data showed.
The government has announced loan write-offs, introduced crop insurance schemes and subsidised inputs such as fertilisers.
But farmers' unions say implementation of these measures has been slow. They have taken to the streets to demand bigger loan waivers and better output prices in protests that have sometimes turned deadly.
With temperatures in India forecast to rise by 3°C by 2050, policies to protect farmers with crop insurance and improvements in rural credit markets may help check suicides, said Carleton.
"Learning that the desperation is economic means that we can do something about this. The right policies could save thousands," she said.
"The tragedy is unfolding today ... This is our problem, right now."
(Reporting by Rina Chandran @rinachandran, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)
Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.