Bet­ting on the re­treat

In­dia's sec­ond con­sec­u­tive mon­soon fail­ure raises many sci­en­tific chal­lenges

Down to Earth - - MONSOON 2015 -

On Septem­ber 4,from some­where in west Ra­jasthan, the mon­soon started re­treat­ing ahead of its sched­uled time. In its wake,it leaves be­hind an agrar­ian coun­try that is pre­dom­i­nantly rain-fed with deficit rain­fall for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year. In­dia’s 1,000-odd weather sci­en­tists track­ing and re­search­ing the mon­soon are left grap­pling with a phe­nom­e­non that be­comes more elu­sive the more they learn about it.

Ar­guably,the cur­rent mon­soon has turned out to be the most keenly ob­served in re­cent history. Start­ing from Jan­uary this year,weird weather con­di­tions have per­sisted in the coun­try,rav­aging farms of 15 mil­lion peo­ple across 16 states. In April, the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (imd) gave an­other shock: it pre­dicted a deficit mon­soon. At the same time, a pri­vate weather fore­caster gave a con­tra­dic­tory forecast of sur­plus mon­soon.It turned out to be a test of sci­en­tific abil­ity to do some­thing that is con­sid­ered the tough­est chal­lenge: fore­cast­ing the mon­soon.

This is the first time af­ter 1986-87 that In­dia is fac­ing a deficit mon­soon that cov­ers nearly all ecosys­tems in the coun­try. Go­ing by the re­cent as­sess­ment of imd,the cur­rent mon­soon was deficit by over 13 per cent till the end of Au­gust. An early re­treat by the mon­soon means there will not be much scope for bridg­ing this gap. Last year, the mon­soon was 12 per cent be­low nor­mal. If a mon­soon is at least 10 per cent be­low the long-range av­er­age rain­fall it is con­sid­ered a drought year. imd of­fi­cials say that the cur­rent deficit would be a bit more than the 10 per cent it fore­casted at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son.

By Septem­ber 4,imd as­sessed that 40 per cent of In­dia’s to­tal dis­tricts ex­pe­ri­enced deficit mon­soon, rang­ing from 20 per cent to 90 per cent. Of th­ese dis­tricts,close to 60 per cent have been ex­pe­ri­enc­ing crop losses con­sec­u­tively for the last eight to nine years due to unsea­sonal rains and deficit mon­soons.

Low rain­fall has af­fected reser­voir lev­els in many places, af­fect­ing ir­ri­ga­tion and power gen­er­a­tion. Some reser­voirs also pro­vide drink­ing wa­ter to cit­i­zens. The Cen­tral Wa­ter Com­mis­sion, a tech­ni­cal wing of the Min­istry of Wa­ter Re­sources, River De­vel­op­ment and Ganga Re­ju­ve­na­tion, mon­i­tors the live stor­age sta­tus of 91 reser­voirs of the coun­try ev­ery week.The live stor­age of a reser­voir is de­fined

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