World Environment Day special: Rural India worst hit by second wave compared to urban centres, says CSE’s new data compendium

In May, over half of daily global cases happened in India on six days – triggered due to the surge in cases in rural districts 

Migration and internal displacements have occupied the center-stage once again, but also due to climate change -- India is the fourth worst hit country in the world in terms of internal displacements due to disasters 

New Delhi, June 4, 2021: The COVID pandemic has severely exposed India’s healthcare system – while the abysmal state of preparedness in urban India has been in the limelight, a more distressing scenario is emerging from the rural hinterland, says a new statistical report released here today by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and Down To Earth magazine. The report -- State of India’s Environment in Figures 2021 -- says community health centres in rural India need 76 per cent more doctors, 56 per cent more radiographers and 35 per cent more lab technicians

The report covers a wide swathe of subjects, from air pollution and climate change to biodiversity and COVID, and from agriculture and land to water and waste. Releasing the report -- which is an annual compendium of statistics on environment and development -- at a webinar organised by CSE, the Centre’s director general Sunita Narain said: “There is drama in numbers, especially when these numbers give you a trend – are things getting better or worse. It is even more powerful when you can use the trend to understand the crisis, the challenge and the opportunity.” 

Pandemic pointers

The report’s analysis of the pandemic through numbers throws up an array of other interesting facts. Says Richard Mahapatra, managing editor, Down To Earth: “One of the key pieces of information that is emerging is that in the second wave, India has been the worst hit globally and rural India has been hit more badly than our urban areas. In May this year, India alone accounted for more than half of the daily global cases on six days. The peak was due to a surge in cases in rural districts.” (see our data cards for the graphical representation – URL given at the end of the press release

Adds Mahapatra: “Along with climate-related risks, infectious diseases have entered the list of major global economic threats for the first time since 2006.” 

Pointing to the load of biomedical waste the country is grappling with as a result of the pandemic, the report says there has been a 46 per cent increase in COVID-19 biomedical waste between April and May 2021. At the same time, treatment of this waste has dipped: in 2019, India managed to treat 88 per cent of its biomedical waste -- down from almost 93 per cent in 2017. (see data cards

The country has managed to fully vaccinate a mere 3.12 per cent of its population, which is lower than the global average of 5.48 per cent. (see data cards

The economic impacts have been – and will continue to be – very severe. Says Rajit Sengupta, one of the key writers of the report: “The pandemic’s spread to fragile rural districts means that the country will take longer to recover. This is likely to slow down the GDP growth next year.” While urban unemployment rate reached almost 15 per cent in May 2021, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act implementation witnessed massive payment lags – the states and UTs of Jammu & Kashmir, Bihar, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh registered maximum payment delays. (see data cards

Climate change: A danger that cannot be overlooked

The CSE report lays special emphasis on climate change. Says Narain: “Grappling as we are with a debilitating pandemic, we cannot lose sight of another clear and present danger that is threatening our very survival. That danger is climate change. Our report’s data amply illustrates the magnitude of the threat.” 

The report points out that India recorded 12 of its 15 warmest years in the period between 2006 and 2020: it also had its warmest decade on record. Extreme weather events continued their rampage across the country, which was the fourth worst hit in the world in terms of internal displacements due to disasters. (see data cards

Says Narain: “Data on migrants is sparse -- and so every time there is a lockdown, governments are caught unprepared by the exodus from cities. This is compounded by the fact that there is out-migration – people are leaving their homes because of many reasons of economic and ecological distress, including extreme weather and natural disasters.” 

She adds: “This report tells us that in 2020, 76 per cent of internal displacements in the world were triggered by climate disasters. Between 2008 and 2020, some 3.73 million people per year were displaced because of floods, earthquakes, cyclones and droughts. The map of the significant weather events of 2020 is the new cartography of the country. Then add to this the fact that governments are spending massive amounts in repairing the damage from these not-so-natural calamities and you understand how the development dividend is being squandered with every such event.” 

Melting glaciers have exacerbated the threat. Says Kiran Pandey, CSE’s programme director for environmental resources and the lead writer of the report: “There are 39 glaciers that have seen a significant increase in their area and are highly disaster-prone.” (see data cards

The country’s response seems to be lagging, finds the report. Take the case of renewable energy: India’s ambitious renewable target, which was a commendable step towards going green, has slipped. With just 55 per cent of the target met, India is nowhere close to installing 175 GW of renewable capacity by 2022. The country also has a target of setting up at least 50 solar parks by 2021-22. So far, it has not operationalised even one of them. (see data cards

Says Narain: “At a time and age when the quality of data available to us is usually poor – it is either missing, unavailable publicly or of questionable quality – a collection like this can be immensely helpful, especially for journalists. Improving the quality of data can only happen when we use it for policy. Take the case of the ongoing pandemic. Just consider how we have suffered in this past year because we do not have sufficient or accurate data on tests, or the number of deaths, or serological surveys, or genomic sequencing of the variants. In each case, data would have been (and is) critical for policy making.” 

She adds: “Data collection is important – it is part of the art of governance – but it is equally important that entire data sets are shared and worked upon so that they can be critiqued and through this process used and improved upon.” 

Find all the data card/s here: 

Find the proceedings and presentations of the webinar and release event here: 

For a copy of the complete e-book, or for interviews, questions etc, please contact: Sukanya Nair of The CSE Media Resource Centre,, 8816818864.




State of India’s Environment 2021: In Figures (E-book)

Data Cards
Climate change: as it is happening in our world
By: Kiran Pandey
Programme Director,
Environment Resource Unit, CSE
State of our environment: through the eyes of numbers
By: Rajit Sengupta
Assistant Editor, Down to Earth