India, known for its diverse climate and monsoon rains, is currently facing a severe weather challenge as it heads for its driest August in more than a century. This unexpected scarcity of rainfall is raising concerns about its impact on agriculture, food prices, and the overall economy. The monsoon, a lifeline for India’s economy, holds immense significance as it provides approximately 70% of the country’s much-needed rainwater for irrigation and replenishing water sources.
This article delves into the critical and unprecedented situation India faces in its current monsoon season, specifically focusing on the severe drought conditions in August 2023.
The Indian monsoon sustains the nation’s $ 3 trillion economy, by supplying water to farms and refilling reservoirs and aquifers. Almost 70% of India’s rainwater comes from the monsoon, making it a vital resource for the agricultural sector. Summer-sown crops like Rice, Soybeans, Cotton, and more, which are staples in Indian agriculture, heavily rely on monsoon rains. However, this year’s deficient rainfall poses a serious threat to these crops, leading to potential yield losses and subsequent increases in food prices and overall inflation. July 2023 already witnessed the highest food inflation since January 2020.
The monsoon’s behavior this year has been erratic. June 2023 witnessed rainfall levels drop 10% below average, while July rebounded with 13% above-average rainfall. However, August saw a staggering 40% lower rainfall than the historical average. In the initial days of August 2023, India recorded a mere 90.7 mm (3.6 inches) of rainfall while the average expected rainfall for the entire month is 254.9 mm (10 inches). The least amount of rainfall documented in August was in 2005, measuring 191.2 mm (7.5 inches). This inconsistency affects nearly half of India’s farmland that lacks proper irrigation facilities. Farmers who depend on timely monsoon rains to plant crops like Rice, Corn, Cotton, and Sugarcane are facing uncertainty due to the ongoing dry spell. This prolonged dryness has resulted in critically low soil moisture levels, raising concerns about crop growth and yield reduction.
The emergence of the El Nino weather pattern has exacerbated the situation. This phenomenon, characterized by warming ocean waters, weakens monsoon circulation and disrupts rainfall patterns. The southern, western, and central parts of India have suffered significant rainfall deficits, leading to concerns about crop growth and agricultural productivity. The impact of El Nino has been so profound that August’s rainfall is projected to be the lowest on record since 1901.
Kerala is experiencing a severe drought during this monsoon season, with a recorded rainfall deficit of 44% as of August 16, 2023. The region received only 877.2 mm of rainfall from June 1 to August 16, 2023, compared to the normal Southwest Monsoon average of 1,572.1 mm. Farmers within the state, particularly those hailing from regions like Idukki and Palakkad, are preparing themselves for a total failure in their crops this year. Kerala is now pinning its hopes on the Northeast Monsoon, expected between October and December, to bring relief from the current drought conditions.
Regional disparities in rainfall further add to the challenges ahead. North-western and southern states are grappling with persistent dry conditions, while some parts of the northeast and central regions are experiencing slight improvements. However, the overall outlook remains grim, with meteorological authorities predicting a continuing rainfall deficit. However, experts anticipate that the rainfall deficiency could increase further, reaching around 7-8% by the end of August 2023.
As India navigates through its driest August in over a century, the implications are clear: a struggling agricultural sector, potential crop loss, and a looming threat of increased food prices. While some regions might experience relief in the coming weeks, the overall picture remains a concern. The role of El Nino in this year’s monsoon pattern emphasizes the interconnectedness of global weather patterns and their impact on regional economies. In the interim, the agricultural sector and the economy at large must brace for the ripple effects of this historic dry spell.
However, this situation underscores the importance of sustainable water management practices and the need to develop resilient agricultural systems to mitigate the impact of such extreme weather events in the future.