Info Service on Climate Change (May14/01)
8 May 2014
Third World Network
monsoon conundrum in India
Published in SUNS #7799 dated 8 May 2014
New Delhi, 7 May (Indrajit Bose) -- While the political fate of India
will be unraveled on 16 May 2014 at the general election, several
crucial weather-related issues that will have a bearing on the growth
paradigm of the country remain at stake.
Increasing weather variability, erratic monsoon and climate change
will make growth targets and fulfilment of election manifestos of
political parties doubly difficult to achieve.
Inclusive and sustainable development, alongside envisaging economic
growth, figures in the manifestos of nearly all the major political
parties in the election fray - Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Congress
and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).
Some political parties included importance of rainwater harvesting
and water conservation in their manifestos; others promised to take
measures to arrest glacial melt.
Either way, irrespective of the party that wins, it is quite clear
that there will be roadblocks in implementing their plans, especially
with India regularly experiencing extreme and freak weather events.
In February and March this year, un-seasonal rainfall along with hailstorm
played havoc with farmers' lives in six Indian states - Punjab, Uttar
Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh.
Unprecedented as it was, the event lasted 20 days and it came just
as farmers were preparing to harvest crops. More than a hundred farmers
reportedly committed suicide due to debt-related worries.
In 2013 too, India experienced weather events that covered the entire
spectrum ranging from major floods, cyclones to droughts, leading
to considerable loss in lives, livelihood and wealth.
The country felt the significant impact of floods in Uttarakhand,
a hill state in northern India; a succession of cyclones hit the eastern
coasts, particularly in Andhra Pradesh; and intense episodes of rainfall
in typically dry/arid regions caught communities unawares leaving
them unprepared for the scale of loss and damage that they were subjected
Such events serve as precedents to what India is about to experience
in the near future and it's not good news on that front.
A recently released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) issued dire consequences for India as a result of climate
change. The report outlined that risks of climate change are intensifying
and that the lives of the world's poor are at stake. India becomes
especially vulnerable since it houses 33 per cent of the world's poorest
The Working Group II of the IPCC, in its report released in March
2013, has projected the following for India:
Over India, the increase in the number of monsoon break days and the
decline in the number of monsoon depressions are consistent with the
overall decrease in seasonal mean rainfall.
* All models and scenarios project an increase in both the mean and
extreme precipitation in the Indian summer monsoon.
* In a study of the Mahanadi River Basin in India, a water availability
projection indicated increasing possibility of floods in September
but increasing water scarcity in April. In the Ganges, an increase
in river runoff could offset the large increases in water demand due
to population growth in a +4 degrees C world, due to a projected large
increase in average rainfall, although high uncertainties remain at
the seasonal scale.
* Freshwater resource will be influenced by changes in rainfall variability,
snowmelt or glacier retreat in the river catchment, and evapotranspiration,
which are associated with climate change. Unsustainable consumption
of groundwater for irrigation and other uses is considered to be the
main cause of groundwater depletion in the Indian states of Rajasthan,
Punjab and Haryana.
* In India, a model projected changes in more than a third of the
forest area by 2100, mostly from deciduous to evergreen forest in
response to increasing rainfall, although fragmentation and other
human pressures are expected to slow these changes.
* By 2100, large areas of tropical and subtropical lowland Asia are
projected to experience combinations of temperature and rainfall outside
the current global range, under a variety of model projections and
emission scenarios, but the potential impacts of these novel conditions
on biodiversity are largely unknown.
* A changing climate has been projected to reduce monsoon sorghum
grain yield in India by 2-14 per cent by 2020, with worsening yields
by 2050 and 2080.
* In the Indo-Gangetic Plains, a large reduction in wheat yields is
projected, unless appropriate cultivars and crop management practices
are adopted. A systematic review and meta-analysis of data in 52 original
publications projected mean changes in yield by the 2050s across South
Asia of 16 per cent for maize and 11 per cent for sorghum.
* With rising temperatures, the process of rice development accelerates
and reduces the duration for growth.
* In terms of risks of increasing heat stress, there are parts of
Asia where current temperatures are already approaching critical levels
during the susceptible stages of the rice plant. These include: Pakistan/North
India (October), South India (April, August), East India/Bangladesh
(March-June), Myanmar/Thailand/Laos /Cambodia (March-June), Vietnam
(April/August), Philippines (April/June), Indonesia (August) and China
* In India, the Indo-Gangetic Plains are under threat of a significant
reduction in wheat yields. This area produces 90 million tons of wheat
grain annually (about 14-15 per cent of global wheat production).
* Flood risk and associated human and material losses are heavily
concentrated in India, Bangladesh, and China.
* On the east coast of India, clusters of districts with poor infrastructure
and demographic development are also the regions of maximum vulnerability.
Hence, extreme events are expected to be more catastrophic in nature
for the people living in these districts.
The IPCC report has also said that floods and drought are likely to
increase in India, since there will be a decline in seasonal rainfall,
coupled with increase in extreme precipitation during monsoon. Also,
freshwater resources will be affected due to a combination of climate
change and unsustainable practices.
Projections on agriculture especially are stark. The IPCC report pegs
over US$7 billion loss in agriculture in India by 2030. Heat stress,
rising temperature and erratic monsoon will contribute substantially
to this loss.
In India, agriculture is the backbone of livelihood security of over
half the country's population and nearly 60 per cent of agriculture
is rain-fed - farmers are dependent on the rains to grow crops. Erratic
monsoon or any change in the monsoon pattern therefore has huge consequences
for the country in terms of ensuring food security.
A study by a team of Stanford University researchers in California,
USA, further substantiates this. The study evaluated how wet and dry
spells have changed between 1951-1980 and 1981-2011. The findings
are worrying, given India's plans of inclusive and sustainable development.
How have monsoons changed in India?
The study found that there has been a decrease in rainfall in the
peak monsoon season; variability in daily rainfall has increased;
wet spells have become more intense; and dry spells occur more frequently.
"There are fewer total number of rain days in the monsoon season,
and the amount of rainfall on these days is highly variable. This
leads to an overall decrease in the mean rainfall in these months
(July-August) but an increase in the day-to-day fluctuations in the
amount of rainfall," said Deepti Singh of Stanford University's
Department of Environmental Earth System Science, who is also the
co-author of the study published online in Nature Climate Change on
Why are such changes happening? Are they following the natural scheme
of things, or can the findings be linked to climate change?
Singh does not dispute the climate change link. The findings of the
study are consistent with previous projections of the hydrological
cycle with increased global warming, she says.
"Although we still need a separate attribution study of these
observed changes to natural and anthropogenic sources, our results
suggest that we are already seeing significant changes similar to
what are expected in response to increased greenhouse gas warming,"
Singh told Third World Network.
Besides, some of the changes in circulation patterns in the study
also matched those expected to occur with increased global warming.
The only caveat Singh issues is that since multiple factors such as
greenhouse gases, aerosols and land use changes interact with the
monsoon differently, one must carefully evaluate the influence of
each of these factors to make more accurate projections for the forthcoming
The impact of changes in monsoons will be telling on rain-fed agriculture,
crops, livestock, livelihoods and food security, the study warns.
"As central India encompasses several river basins that contain
high population densities and large areas of crop cultivation, rainfall
extremes over this region have a particularly strong influence on
agriculture and water management," reads the study, which assessed
the South Asian summer monsoon over central India, comprising Madhya
Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, parts of Uttar Pradesh and eastern
To add to the grim scenario, the Indian Meteorological Department
has predicted less-than-average monsoon for the year 2014, and the
World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) has also said that below-normal
rainfall is most likely during the 2014 summer monsoon season (June
to September) over South Asia as a whole.
One of the reasons for this, said the WMO statement, is the possibility
of an El Nino, a phenomenon where the Pacific warms due to increased
sea surface temperature. El Nino conditions during the monsoon season
are known to weaken the South Asian summer monsoon circulation and
adversely impact rainfall over the region.
Given such uncertainties and erratic weather, no matter who wins the
2014 general election in India, erratic monsoon will continue to play
havoc with people's lives unless anticipatory steps are taken to ensure
food and livelihood security for the people of the country, especially
its poor population. +