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Farmer Suicides Rise in India as Climate Warms, Study Shows

07:23 EDT 1 Aug 2017 | Meridian Institute

A new study suggests that India will see more farmer suicides as climate change brings hotter temperatures to the country. For every 1 degree Celsius of warming above 20 degrees C during the growing season, the study found, there are 67 more suicides on average. The message, says Vikram Patel, an Indian psychiatrist and mental health expert with Harvard Medical School, United States, who was not involved in the study, "is that farming is an inherently risky occupation, with annual incomes often held hostage to the weather, and it's getting riskier in the era of climate change… Anything that will affect occupational stability is going to affect farmers' mental health." In India, the government will often guarantee monetary aid to surviving families, thereby creating a perverse incentive for a farmer to commit suicide. Adds Patel, "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 suggests that India should provide more financial stability for farmers and pay more attention to mental health. Tamma Carleton, who studies agriculture and resource economics at the University of California, Berkeley, also in the U.S., conducted the research. "I estimate that warming temperature trends over the last three decades have already been responsible for over 59,000 suicides throughout India," she said. "Suicides occur due to extreme economic despair," said M.S. Swaminathan, a geneticist whose work on high-yield rice and wheat crops helped drive India's Green Revolution in the 1960s. "Suitable crop insurance and a prompt compensation of losses due to climate-related factors will help to avoid a sense of hopelessness that leads to suicide.” The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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