Drought threat looms over north India

The Times of India (Link) - Julia Duin (July 8, 2009)

The earlier prediction brought bad news. Now, the latest Met update on the monsoon seems to affirm that northern India is staring at a drought.

As of July 6, monsoon was 44% deficient in the region that includes Punjab, Haryana and west UP � the granary of the country.

This is on top of almost nil pre-monsoon showers in the entire belt. Worse, the forecast for the next 10 days, crucial for the sowing of the kharif crop, says the region can expect scanty rain at best.

Time is running out for farmers. The north remains the only region where the monsoon didn't make up for lost time last week. While the monsoon was 43% deficient overall on July 2, by July 6, the deficit had come down to 37%. In the north, however, the shortfall rose another 2 percentage points in this period.

"Overall, the situation is improving everywhere except northwest India," said D S Pai, director of the National Climate Centre at IMD, Pune. "For this region, which includes J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and UP, we stick by our earlier prediction of 81% rain for the season."

B P Yadav, director, IMD Delhi, agreed the situation for northwest India didn't seem very promising. "We are hoping the monsoon will recover in the remaining two months. By July 9, the area is likely to start getting easterly winds that will bring rain and reduce temperature. But it�s going to be very sporadic rain," he said.

Government is hoping late rains would mitigate the situation. But a lot of damage has already been done. "Paddy, which is the dominant kharif crop in Punjab and Haryana will take a hit. Other crops like bajra, jowar, pulses as well as fodder will suffer. Due to water stress, I except lower yields for standing crops like cotton and sugarcane as well,�� said Ramesh Chand, professor at Indian Council for Agricultural Research.

The one silver lining is that irrigation is well developed in the worst-hit areas. Said Abhijeet Sen, economist and member of the Planning Commission, ��Urgent steps to control the use of water and power need to be taken. If we manage to do that, around 80% kharif sowing can take place.��

Less rain also had a direct bearing on the power produced in the state though there was not a very big dip in generation. However, with rains continuing to play truant, the state�s maize crop is in trouble. Director, agriculture, J C Rana, said maize could not be sown in over 70,50 hectares. Apple production in the state is also expected to fall to 1.80 crore boxes as against the normal of 3.2 crore boxes.

The situation is just as grim in Haryana. Delay in rainfall has created a major power and water crisis. Though the state government tried its best to deal with the situation with purchase of additional power from different sources, unscheduled power cuts continue to plague people, triggering protests in various parts of the state. "Yes, there is a huge gap between demand and supply, with shortage sometimes going up to 200 lakh units. But we are trying to bridge this gap by purchasing power," said Haryana power minister Randeep Singh Surjewala.

As in the rest of north India, monsoon arrived late in Uttar Pradesh and has since gone weak. The rainfall in UP has been 71% below normal so far. According to reports, paddy had been sown in only 25%-30% of its normal area in the state. Paddy sowing is usually complete by the first week of July. The sugarcane yield is also expected to drop by 20%.

The water scene in Maharashtra is grim with all irrigation dams having just 11% of water because of bad rainfall. In Mumbai, authorities announced that the city will get only 30% of its normal water supply.

The situation in Tamil Nadu is no better. Paddy farmers in the state are now hoping and praying for bountiful rains in Karnataka. For, only if the skies open up in Karnataka, the surplus Cauvery water will gush down to the Stanley reservoir at Mettur in Tamil Nadu to irrigate the agricultural fields in at least 11 districts. The water level in Mettur is abysmally low and its sluices remain shut even 20 days after it is scheduled to be opened for irrigating the fields in the Cauvery delta.

In West Bengal, the monsoon got delayed by nearly three weeks following the Aila that hit on May 25. Various theories were offered on what had turned the rains away. While the Met office claimed the cyclone had sucked away the moisture, a section of experts held the changing weather pattern responsible. But whatever be the reason, the state has suffered a 40% drop in the amount of rainfall received this season.

In Gujarat, urgent prayers are being held in many temples to invoke rain. The state received only 7cm rainfall till Tuesday which is just 8% of the average rainfall for the season. By this time last year, the state had got 18.9% rainfall and 47% in 2007.