Although more than three quarters of world’s suicide happen in developing countries, there’s still little research on the issue. The problem is becoming alarming in India, where one fifth of the world’s suicides occur. In numbers, around 12,602 farmers committed suicide in 2015, which was one of the worst years registered. And, since 1995, more than 300,000 farmers have ended their lives. At the moment, there’s a state of India, Maharashtra, which already reports 852 farmer suicides.
The consequences of climate change are undeniable all over the world. However, they are particularly frightening in countries which economy is vastly based on agriculture, as it depends essentially on the weather. Indeed, in India there’s a direct relation between high temperatures and suicide increase, according to estimates in a research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
This study, led by UC Berkeley researcher Tamma Carleton, proves “for temperatures above 20°C, a 1°C increase in a single day’s temperature causes 70 suicides, on average”. And this happens only during the season when weather conditions should favor the crop yield, but high temperatures reduce it. However, when it was hotter than usual during the off-season and rainfall was low, suicide rates didn’t present any unusual peak point on graphs.
More specifically, Carleton even shows that 335 more suicides occurred when temperatures raised 5ºC, whereas the rise of just 1cm3 in precipitation lead to a drop on number of deaths. The researcher estimates that a total of 59,300 suicides in the agricultural sector over the past 30 years could be attributed to global warming. And this information is best understood when put into context: rain-dependent agriculture employs more than 50% of India’s working community.
The main goal of Carleton’s study, apart from informing about the situation in India, is to define the problem so that it will be easier to find a solution, whether it’s a psychological or an economical help for the farmers who claim for support.
The study’s results project why suicide rates have nearly doubled since 1980, evolving to a suicide epidemic. But they also shed a light on the consequences of climate change in those countries which incomes are based in agriculture. These types of economy, moreover, are more vulnerable in terms of stability, as they depend on something as unpredictable as the weather.
Unfortunately, world’s climate is predicted to get 3ºC warmer by 2050. However, Tamma Carleton focuses on the present: “It was both shocking and heartbreaking to see that thousands of people face such bleak conditions that they are driven to harm themselves,” Carleton says. “But learning that the desperation is economic means that we can do something about this. The right policies could save thousands.”