The perpetual El Nino -Jatin Singh

-The Telegraph

Below-normal and drought are the new normal. Since 2012 there has only been one normal monsoon.

Monsoons follow their own patterns, unpredictable as they may be. In the past, certain periods, spanning a decade or sometimes two, have had higher frequencies of droughts and at the moment, we seem to be stuck in such a cycle. Between 1900 and the year 2000, there was one drought per decade. But since 2000, there have been five droughts.

Looking at the record another way, earlier there was an average of one drought every 15 years. Now, we’ve had two droughts in the past nine years alone. Last year we only barely escaped an official drought (we had a 9.6 per cent deficit, just undershooting the 10 per cent required for a year to be declared a drought).

It has been predicted that increasing temperatures in the late 21st and early 22nd century will cause frequent changes and shifts to the monsoon precipitation of up to 70 per cent below normal levels. Not only will this affect the Indian summer monsoon, but the onset of the monsoon over Southeast Asia may also be delayed up to 15 days in the future. If this recurring pattern holds, then there’s virtually no hope for a good monsoon in the years to come and we’re not well-equipped to deal with the repercussions.

Despite some technological advances, agriculture is still very much monsoon-dependent. Long dry spells are followed by periods of excess rainfall, leading to floods. And, curiously enough, you can have a drought and a flood in the same season in the same region. India was hit by two back-to-back droughts in 2014 and 2015. The economy’s definitely diversified since the immediate post-independence years: agriculture’s share of gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk from 50 per cent in the 1950s to about 15 per cent now. This might suggest the country is not as exclusively dependent on agriculture as it once was. But that’s not the case.

Even today, agriculture gives employment to some 50 per cent of India’s workforce. There are 100 million farmer households with 650 million people indirectly dependent on agriculture. Every year, unpredictable or irregular weather events cause unprecedented losses of capital and produce that in turn set off a ripple effect, culminating in food-price inflation and tragic farmer suicides. While India’s more drought-resilient, it is by no means drought-proof.

But to focus on the positive, one of the major reasons behind the increased drought resilience is the importance now laid on output of rabi crops that was earlier restricted to kharif harvests. This stems from a half-century’s worth of effort to make Indian farming less dependent on the vagaries of the monsoons.

Also, governments, at both the state and the union levels, have become more sensitive to the needs of the agricultural sector and taken steps to fortify it against droughts. The budgetary estimate for the Agriculture Ministry for 2019-20 is 140 per cent higher than that for 2018-19, mainly due to the Rs 75,000 crore allocated to the PM-Kisan programme which aims to boost farmers’ incomes by paying them Rs 6,000 a year in three equal instalments.

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The Telegraph, 8 August, 2019, https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/the-perpetual-el-nino/cid/1696411?ref=opinion_opinion-page

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