WEST­ERN GHATS

The wa­ter­rich re­gion faces drought

Down to Earth - - FRONT PAGE - JIGYASA WATWANI

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

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