Rural crisis plan on agenda with chances of deficient rains
In the long term, this can also be a reminder to boost alternative irrigation measures like water harvesting and tapping river systems.
The first monsoon forecasts have begun, and there is cause for worry. Private forecaster Skymet Weather predicted ‘below normal’ rainfall of around 94% of the average because of the strengthening El Nino phenomenon. The official meteorological department (IMD) concurs there will be an ‘El Nino effect’ but says rains will be ‘normal-to-below-normal’. The ‘El Nino’ effect means the warming of the ocean waters in the Pacific equatorial belt is likely to weaken easterly winds that carry monsoon vapour across the Indian peninsula. Skymet has hedged its bets by giving a 40% weightage to ‘below-normal’ rainfall but has also said chances that it will be ‘normal’ are just 25%. ‘High temperatures’ are expected through May and June. More ominously, the deficiency is expected to increase with the advance of the monsoon, and the food bowl of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh is likely to get less-than-normal rains during the second half of the season.
Global warming is becoming endemic; India is also seeing weather changes in the form of unseasonal rains and blistering off-season heat that destroys crops. Nearly half our population is directly dependent on agriculture, and the monsoons provide about 70% of the annual rainfall, while monsoon rains irrigate 60% of farmlands.
Normal rainfall spurs food grain production for the broader economy, translating into a vast purchasing power for the rural population. This spurs the buying and production of consumer goods, keeping the wheels of industry and employment turning. While numerous weather predictions change or are proven wrong, a possible deficient monsoon is a serious worry. Weather forecasting is getting more detailed, and a crisis management plan identifying the districts and villages likely to be affected by drought needs to be put into motion. These should include contingency plans for providing alternative irrigation and post-monsoon food support to drought-prone areas. Bolstering the rural employment guarantee scheme (MGNREGS) in areas that may suffer deficient rains must be on the agenda too. More than 15 crore rural workers are registered under the scheme, and the guaranteed minimum of 100 days of employment has proved to be a lifeline for those on the verge of poverty. In the long term, this can also be a reminder to boost alternative irrigation measures like water harvesting and tapping river systems.