Drought: India must focus on crop suitability and add storage capacity

May 31, 2019 11:41 AM |

As per a Business Standard analysis of the IIT Gandhinagar’s Drought Early Warning System, more than 40 percent of India will be facing drought this year with half of this area to experience severe to exceptional drought.

The reason for this has been attributed to the pre-Monsoon rains that have fallen short of usual by 23%, which is also the worst deficit in six years. Moreover, as on May 25, nearly six percent of India’s land area was in the extremely dry category, 7 times the area that was classified as such the same time last year.

As per several studies over the past few years, India’s future in the face of the relating climate crisis is quite hazardous. Since the 1950s, there has been deterioration in Monsoon rains, whereas the frequency of heavy rainfall events is increasing year by year.

In fact, according to research in 2018, against such a backdrop, it is frightening that 60 percent of India’s districts are drought-ready, and only 241 of India’s 634 districts are drought-resilient. Inter- and intra-state water inequality is a barrel waiting to be lit as access to water will decline in the coming years.

The factors that affect India’s water-security are several, and there are multiple remedies for developing drought readiness. To start with, the country needs to immediately add reservoir capacity—while it collects an annual rainfall of about 4,000 billion cubic meters, the country makes a heavy discount for evaporation, of 2,131 bcm.

Of the remaining 1,869 bcm, the water eventually available for utilization is 1,123 bcm, as various constraints don’t allow full usage. Now, against the evaporation and constraints losses of close to 2,900 bcm, the reservoir storage capacity in the country is about 257 bcm.

Just 34 percent of India’s cultivated area has access to irrigation; this means the rain-fed majority is highly reliant on groundwater. But, there too, vulnerability is cumulative because of the rapid reduction of groundwater, 15 percent of India’s groundwater resources are over-exploited.

Part of the problem is the large subsidies given by states to the farm sector for power that enables uncritical groundwater pumping and fertilizer, the unnecessary application of which changes the soil’s water requirement.

But, at the bottom of this is farmers sowing crops ill-suited to a region’s soil type and water availability—a water-deficient Maharashtra dedicating two-thirds of its irrigation water to sugarcane, grown on just 4 percent of the state’s cultivated area, or a Punjab growing most of India’s rice for exports when West Bengal has an economic water productivity for the crop that is 2.5 times higher. India’s water-stressed future looks much worse if it does nothing resolve these issues.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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