The waterrich region faces drought
ONE OF the world’s major biodiversity hot spots, the Western Ghats of India are becoming increasingly dry. A number of studies in the past five-six years have shown that rain deficient years are becoming more frequent in the 1,500 km hills that stretch across six states on the western coast of the country.
India Meteorological Department (imd) data shows that all 51 districts comprising the Western Ghats received around 21 per cent deficit rainfall between June 1 and September 10 this year (see ‘Steady decline’ on p16). The rain gauge in M N Devaiah’s 8 hectares of agricultural field in Kodagu district of Karnataka—a state that has 60 per cent of the Ghats—recorded only 101.6 cm of rain between January 1 and September 10 this year. The figure last year was 203.2 cm. Farmers in the neighbouring districts of Hassan, Uttar Kannada and Udupi also reported nearly 40 per cent less rain till September 10 this year. The deficit has resulted in drought-like conditions in the districts. “Farmers, whose crops were entirely rain-fed, suffered the most,” says HP Mohan, a farmer from Hassan, whose income from his coffee plantation this year was 50 per cent less than usual (see ‘Coffee concerns’ on p16).
The rain deficit this year is not unprecedented. According to imd data, 2012 was much worse, with 33.5 per cent deficit rain in the Ghats. Apart from the decreasing rain, what is even more remarkable is the change in the monsoon patterns of the region. The southwest monsoon (June to September), which accounts for 80 per cent of the annual rainfall in the Ghats, has decreased and the northeast monsoon (October to December) has shot up in the past two decades, says a 2016 paper by T I Eldho and C G Madhusoodhanan from iit- Bombay. The December 2015 floods in Chennai are evidence of an intensifying northeast monsoon in the region, says Madhusoodhanan.
Another 2015 paper by the two scholars says that the three zones of the Ghats— Malabar, Canara and Konkan—show “extreme drought proneness” and that there has been a “significant increase in the occurrence of drought conditions in the last three decades in the Western Ghats”. In coastal Karnataka, 13 of the 33 years between 1980
B P Ravishankar, a farmer in Kodagu, Karnataka, says he had to use water from tanks to irrigate his coffee plantation this year since the rainfall was insufficient