Skymet weather

Rainfall deficit in India

December 18, 2012 12:16 PM |

The U.N Climate Change negotiations 2012 held in Doha brought an appalling fact to light i.e. we are going to face a devastating risk of a drought in the coming years due to a rainfall deficit in India by up to 70%. Drought in India is nothing new; it is a recurring phenomenon that has been too frequent in the last decade and points out the serious global warming effects.

This rainfall deficit in India has continually stumped meteorologists in the last decade especially as this period saw the worst drought in India. This was in year 2000 when the catastrophic drought threatened the life of 50 million people as a cruel heat wave scorched the bone-dry earth and destroyed farmer’s livestock by thousands in Rajasthan and Gujarat. The pattern of the variability of the monsoon rains in India (southwest and northeast monsoon) is unique every year.

Three-quarters of India's annual rainfall comes from the summer monsoon that occurs between June and September. Once the rains begin, Indian farmers begin to sow their summer crops, mainly rice, wheat, oilseed and sugar. But this year the rainfall deficit in India in the month of June led to a 39% deficit in Central India. Whereas north and northwest India recorded a deficit of 70% and the situation became the worst in the ‘food basket’ of the country, Punjab. South Peninsula saw a deficit of 29% and the east and southeast India recorded a deficit of 5%, thus leading to another drought in India. Weather forecasters say the quantum rainfall received during the month of June remained way below normal because of the sluggish advance of the southwest monsoon. The seasonal heat trough over northern plains formed only towards the third week of June. For the country as a whole, the rainfall for the season (June-September) was 92% of its long period average.

On the other hand, northeast monsoon in the south Peninsula saw a deficit of 21% in south interior Karnataka, 35% in Kerala and a whopping 46% in Lakshadweep.

“It’s quite a mystery to people” says Andrew Robertson, a scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society at Columbia University. The best signal that monsoon rains might be particularly weak during a given year, he explained, is warm sea surface temperatures related to a phenomenon called ‘El Nino’ in the Pacific Ocean. But even El Nino is a weak signal, therefore it is very difficult for climatologists to develop a seasonal forecast with high degree of certainty or predict a drought in India with high accuracy.

Such global warming effects seen causing a drought in India or leading to recurring storms is not new; this is something we have now been witnessing across the entire globe for more than a decade but even then the risk of this adverse change in global weather is not being tackled efficiently due to deep divisions among the 200 countries. The developing countries say they want more funds and firm commitments from industrialized nations to cut emission.

Not to forget that the Indian economy and rainfall are inter-related. Most central bankers pore over economic indicators to gauge where the country is going.  And despite growth in the services and manufacturing sector, the Indian economy is heavily reliant on the monsoon. Poor rainfall leads to a rise in food prices, which then quickly moves into other sectors as well making the double-digit inflation rates, the country’s main headline.

Photograph by Suburbanbloke.


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