Michael Safi in Delhi
Monday 31 July 2017 20.00 BST
Climate change may have contributed to the suicides of nearly 60,000 Indian farmers and farm workers over the past three decades, according to new research that examines the toll rising temperatures are already taking on vulnerable societies.
Illustrating the extreme sensitivity of the Indian agricultural industry to spikes in temperature, the study from the University of California, Berkeley, found an increase of just 1C on an average day during the growing season was associated with 67 more suicides.
An increase of 5C on any one day was associated with an additional 335 deaths, the study published in the journal PNAS on Monday found. In total, it estimates that 59,300 agricultural sector suicides over the past 30 years could be attributed to warming.
Temperature increases outside the growing season showed no significant impact on suicide rates, suggesting stress on the agriculture industry was the source of the increase in suicides.
Also supporting the theory was that rainfall increases of as little as 1cm each year were associated with an average 7% drop in the suicide rate. So beneficial was the strong rainfall that suicide rates were lower for the two years that followed, researcher Tamma Carleton found.
Farm sector suicides in India decreased last year, but remain at epidemic levels in some states and are a source of immense pressure on legislators.
One drought-hit state, Maharashtra, reported 852 farmer suicides in the first four months of this year, while in 2015, one of the worst years on record, about 12,602 farmers killed themselves across India. Overall, more than 300,000 farmers and farm workers have killed themselves in the country since 1995.
In recent months, a site in central Delhi has been strewn with evidence of the despair felt by the Indian agricultural sector.