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Posts Tagged ‘drought

What works, and doesn’t, in Maharashtra’s districts

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In an exercise to help determine how reports of the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act or Nrega) can inform us, I have used the records of what the programme calls ‘outcomes’ in the form of ‘physical assets’ created for the community (or conditional use by groups of individuals, depending on the kind of asset) over a financial year.

RG_nrega_MAH_dists_G1_201607The year is 2015-16 and the districts are those of Maharashtra (34, Mumbai excluded). There are at present 17 categories of physical assets and these are: rural connectivity, flood control and protection, water conservation and water harvesting, drought proofing, micro irrigation works, provision of irrigation, renovation of traditional water bodies, land development, any other activity approved, sewa kendra, coastal areas, rural drinking water, fisheries, rural sanitation, anganwadi, playground, food grain.

RG_nrega_MAH_dists_G2_201607‘Works’ are recorded under each kind of physical asset, with these classified as having been ‘approved’, ‘taken up’ and ‘completed’ (with ‘taken up’ presumably meaning commenced but incomplete at the end of the financial year). What matters therefore is to study those that have been completed, as the kind of community asset created and certified as being completed would serve to indicate what the community has decided it needs as a priority.

RG_nrega_MAH_dists_G3_201607When so filtered, the number of completed physical assets in the 34 districts of Maharashtra for the year 2015-16 totalled 71,554 – a large number that helps describe why the Nrega records are so very voluminous: 1,376 ‘works’ completed every week in 34 districts, with tens of thousands of Nrega beneficiary individuals and households working to build, repair, revive, create them, and with a complex inventory of raw materials being required to be transported and paid for so that these works may take shape.

RG_nrega_MAH_dists_G4_201607What the list of completed works – type and number – describe is very instructive. Of the 17 categories, four (fisheries, anganwadi, playground and food grain) were recorded with not a single instance of having become a ‘work completed’ in any district. On the other hand, four kinds of physical assets accounted for a full 85% of the 71,554 works completed in Maharashtra’s 34 districts for 2015-16 and these were, in ascending order: drought proofing (8,110 and 11% of the total works), rural sanitation (12,234 and 17%), water conservation and water harvesting (14,384 and 20%), and provision of irrigation (26,496 and 37%).

RG_nrega_MAH_dists_G5_201607The popularity of the latter four can be well understood, as much for how they are all linked as for the precarious living conditions that every taluka in Maharashtra’s semi-arid districts face when the winter months end. These biases towards certain works but not others still do however need to be read with conditions, and keeping in mind that these are the works for but one financial year out of the last ten (albeit the definition of what constitutes an asset under Nrega has been altered and added to several times).

RG_nrega_MAH_dists_G6_201607The question that remains is: Maharashtra’s districts and blocks and villages occupy varying agro-ecological, hydrological and meteorological regions. Do their geographic and environmental circumstances not have a role to play in the decisions taken about what Nrega works should be taken up (and completed) as a priority over other kinds?

The charts presented here in groups of districts arranged according to their location amongst the six agro-ecological regions that Maharashtra occupies, indicate whether the Nrega ‘works’ process takes cognisance of the fundamental environmental factors upon which the village (and so panchayat, taluka, district) rest. The charts have been constrained to 200 on the vertical axis in order to preserve readability – values are given for each ‘work’ recorded by each district. The abbreviations for the ‘works’ (horizontal axis) are for the full forms found in the second paragraph.

Written by makanaka

July 12, 2016 at 22:28

Dimensions of drought

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We lack not at all for experience with drought, yet have not grown used to treating water with the greatest of care. Drought does not strike in the manner a hailstorm does, yet our administrations seem unable to read the signals. Citizens and panchayats alike can contribute to our managing droughts better, provided all are willing to change both perception and behaviour.

RG_FC_drought_1_201605_smIt is because drought is such a forbidding condition for any state to fall into that it becomes at once threatening and emotive. Its every symptom becomes a new trial for a drought-afflicted population and simultaneously a likely indictment of the administration, whether local or regional. Food and crop, water and health, wages and relief: this is the short list for which action is demanded by a population concerned for those in the drought-affected districts and blocks.

The administration is bound to answer, as it is likewise bound to plan, prepare, anticipate and act. But where the interrogation of a government for its tardiness in providing immediate relief comes quickly, a consideration of the many factors that contribute to the set of conditions we call drought is done rarely, and scarcely at all when there is no drought. It is the gap between these two activities that has characterised most public criticism of the role of administration today when there is drought.

For farmers and district or block-level administrators alike, drought is a normal and recurrent feature of climate in the dryland regions of India. It occurs in nearly all climatic zones – our long recording history of droughts and floods in particular show that whereas in eastern India (West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar) a drought occurs once in every five years, in Gujarat, East Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh the frequency is once in three years. Although the characteristics of what we call drought varies significantly from one meteorological sub-division to another, and indeed from one agro-ecological zone to another, the drought condition arises from a deficiency in precipitation that persists long enough to produce a serious hydrological imbalance.

RG_FC_drought_2_201605_smDrought is a complex phenomenon. There is first a need to distinguish between meteorological and agricultural droughts. A meteorological drought is a period of prolonged dry weather conditions due to below normal rainfall. An agricultural drought refers to the impact caused by precipitation shortages, temperature anomalies that lead to increased evapotranspiration by crops and vegetation, and consequently to a shortage of the water content in the soil, all being factors that adversely affect crop production and soil moisture. The National Commission on Agriculture has defined an agricultural drought differently for the kharif (monsoon cropping season, July to October) and rabi (winter cropping season, October to March).

What the country has witnessed during March and April is an agricultural drought, brought about by the high temperatures which raised mean and maximum temperatures into the heat-wave band. This we have witnessed in Odisha, Telengana, Vidarbha, Marathwada, north interior Karnataka, Rayalaseema, coastal Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, eastern Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and West Bengal.

[You can read the rest of this article at the Financial Chronicle. Page pdfs are here (2MB) and here (1.8MB).]

Written by makanaka

May 13, 2016 at 20:04

Food, climate, culture, crops and government

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The weekly standardised precipitation index of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) which is a running four-week average. This series shows the advancing dryness of districts in south India.

The weekly standardised precipitation index of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) which is a running four-week average. This series shows the advancing dryness of districts in south India.

In November 2015, the Departmentally Related Standing Committee on Agriculture of the Lok Sabha, Parliament of India, invited suggestions and submissions on the subject “Comprehensive Agriculture Research based on Geographical Condition and Impact of Climatic Changes to ensure Food Security in the Country”.

The Committee called for inputs on issues such as the need to evolve new varieties of crops which can withstand climatic fluctuation; requirement to evolve improved methods of irrigation; the need to popularise consumption of crops/fruits which can provide better nutrition; the need to develop indigenous varieties of cattle that can withstand extreme climatic stress; the need to develop a system for precision horticulture and protected cultivation; diversification of species of fish to enhance production from the fisheries sector; the need to strengthen the agriculture extension system; and means to focus on agriculture education.

I prepared a submission as my outline response, titled “Aspects of cultivation, provision of food, and use of land in Bharat today and a generation hence”. The outline I provided includes several issues of current urgency and connects them to scenarios that are very likely to emerge within a generation. My intention is to signal the kinds of pathways to preparation that government (central and state) may consider. It is also meant to flag important cultural and social considerations that lie before us, and to emphasise that economic and quantitative measurements alone are not equipped to provide us holistic guidance.

The outline comprises three sections.
(A) The economic framework of the agriculture and food sector and its imperatives.
(B) The social, ecological, and resource nature of crop cultivation, considering factors that influence it.
(C) Methods, pathways and alternatives possible to adopt with a view to being inter-generationally responsible.

In view of the current climatic conditions – heat waves in the central and eastern regions of the country, stored water in our major reservoirs which are at or near ten-year lows – I reproduce here the section on the economic framework of the agriculture and food sector and its imperatives. The full submission can be found here [pdf, 125kb].

This framework considers the agriculture and food sector, including primary agricultural production recorded, the inputs and products of industry based on agricultural raw material (primary crop whether foodgrain, horticulture, spices, plantation, ruminants and marine, oilseeds, fibres), agribusiness (processing in all its forms), supply chains connecting farmers and farmer producer organisations to primary crop aggregators, buyers, merchants, stockists, traders, consumers, as well as associated service providers. This approach is based on the connection between agricultural production and demand from buyers, processers and consumers along what is called the supply chain.

 

Water storage quantities in the 91 major reservoirs in the first week of April 2016. Blue bars are each reservoir's full storage capacity (in billion cubic metres, bcm) and orange bars are the current storage at the time. Data from the Central Water Commission, Government of India.

Water storage quantities in the 91 major reservoirs in the first week of April 2016. Blue bars are each reservoir’s full storage capacity (in billion cubic metres, bcm) and orange bars are the current storage at the time. Data from the Central Water Commission, Government of India.

If this framework is considered as existing in Bharat to a significant degree which influences crop cultivation choices, the income of cultivating household, the employment generation potential of associated service providers, then several sets of questions require answers:

* Concerning economic well-being and poverty reduction: what role does agricultural development need to play in promoting economic stability in rural (and peri-urban) regions thereby contributing to poverty reduction and how can the agrifood sector best contribute to jobs and higher incomes for the rural poor?

* Concerning food security: what role can agricultural and agro-industry development play in ensuring rural and urban communities have reliable access to sufficient, culturally appropriate and safe food?

* Concerning the sustainability of food producing systems: how should agriculture and agro-industry be regulated in a participatory manner so as to ensure that methods of production do not overshoot or endanger in any way (ecological or social) conservative carrying capacity thresholds especially in the contexts of climate change and resource scarcity?

When viewed according to the administrative and policy view that has prevailed in Bharat over the last two generations, there is a correlation between agricultural productivity growth and poverty reduction and this is the relationship the macro- economic and policy calculations have been based upon. Our central annual agricultural (and allied services) annual and five-year plan budget and state annual and five-year plan budgets have employed such calculations since the 1950s, when central planning began.

However the choices that remain open to us are considerably fewer now than was the case two generations (and more) ago when the conventional economic framework of the agriculture and food sector took shape.

An India economical with monsoon truths

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Monsoon measures for six weeks. A few more districts reporting the revised normal, but the deficient-2 category still has too many districts, and so does excess-2. And why so many 'no data' (many from the north-east)?

Monsoon measures for six weeks. A few more districts reporting the revised normal, but the deficient-2 category still has too many districts, and so does excess-2. And why so many ‘no data’ (many from the north-east)?

When a politician and a bureaucrat get together to supply punditry on the monsoon, the outcome is directionless confusion. There is no reason for our shared knowledge on monsoon 2014 to be reduced to a few boilerplate paragraphs and a couple of amateurish maps and charts, not with the equipment and scientific personnel the Republic of India has invested in so that we read the rain better. But Jitendra Singh, the Minister of State who is in charge of Science, Technology and Earth Sciences, and Laxman Singh Rathore, the Director General of the India Meteorological Department, have not progressed beyond the era of cyclostyled obfuscation.

The Press Information Bureau reported Singh as saying that there has been “significant increase in the monsoon during the last one week beginning from 13th July, and the seven days between last Sunday and this Sunday have recorded 11 percent increase in the monsoon country-wide”. Following suit, Rathore said: “The monsoon deficit has come down by 12 per cent and the overall deficit stands at around 31 per cent. This will bring in much needed relief to the farmers and solve the water issues.”

Coming from senior administrators, such fuzzy distraction cannot be tolerated. The Ministry of Earth Sciences, the India Meteorology Department and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting must cease (desist, stop, halt – do it now) the use of a ‘national’ rainfall average to describe the progress of monsoon 2014. This is a measure that has no meaning whatsoever for cultivators in any of our agro-ecological zones, and has no meaning for any individual taluka or tehsil in the 36 meteorological sub-divisions. What we need to see urgently adopted is a realistic overview that numerically and graphically explains the situation, at as granular a level as possible.

RG_rainfall_measure_six_weeks_20140723_sectionWhen that does not happen, news media and information sources struggle to make sense of monsoon and climate and their reporting becomes dangerously misleading – consider “Late monsoon starts Indian farmer’s ‘journey to hell’ “; “Why the monsoon numbers hide reality” (this report is an attempt to point out the problem); “Monsoon deficit has come down to 31 per cent, no need to be ‘alarmist’: Met office”; “Satisfactory rainfall may wash away monsoon deficit”.

Using a revised categorisation of rainfall sufficiency levels (my method and the reasoning for it use is available here) we find that for the fifth and sixth weeks of monsoon, there has been a small improvement which does not lower the high likelihood of drought conditions becoming prevalent in districts and scarcity of water for our settlements – Messers Singh and Rathore please note (or visit the Indian Climate Portal Monsoon 2014 page which is an active repository of reportage, views, commentary and original data analysis on our monsoon).

The fifth monsoon week is 03 to 09 July 2014 and the sixth monsoon week is 10 to 16 July 2014. There has been a small addition to the revised normal rainfall category (-5% to +5%), rising from 18 districts recording normal rainfall in the 4th week to 22 in the 5th and 28 in the 6th. There has also been an improvement in the number of districts recording deficit-2 levels of rainfall (-21% and more) with 437 in the 4th week, 411 in the 5th week and 385 in the 6th week. For the remainder of July the likelihood of more rainfall in the districts that have recorded normal or excess-1 (+6% to +20%) is small, according to the available forecasts, and this means that monsoon 2014 will begin August with far fewer districts registering normal rainfall than they should at this stage.

The NOAA map of the land and sea percentiles. Note the warm water south of India and to the east of the Philippines.

The NOAA map of the land and sea percentiles. Note the warm water south of India and to the east of the Philippines.

With many sowing cycles beginning belatedly between now and the end of July, the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the India Meteorology Department, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Water Resources are advised to work together (why aren’t they doing so already – or at least mandating ICAR institutes to supply them with analysis which they must absorb jointly?) to understand the impacts of regional, tropical and global climate trends that affect the Indian summer monsoon.

There is good reason to. According to NOAA, for 2014 June land and ocean surface temperatures jumped 0.72 Celsius above the 20th century average. These new records were pushed upwards by a broad warming of the ocean surface, and not only by an Equatorial Pacific whose waters are approaching the warmth usually seen during an El Nino. NOAA has said there was “extreme warming of almost every major world ocean zone” which warmed local air masses and had a far-reaching impact on global climate, “likely delaying the Indian monsoon”.

Quiet preparations for scarce water, smaller harvests

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State and district officials will have to turn forms like this (the drought management information system) into preparation on the ground and in each panchayat.

State and district officials will have to turn forms like this (the drought management information system) into preparation on the ground and in each panchayat.

The Ministry of Agriculture through the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation has released its national drought crisis management plan. This is not taken as the signal for India that drought conditions will set in, but to prepare for drought where it is identified. In the fifth week of the South-West monsoon, the trend continues to be that week by week, the number of districts which have recorded less rainfall than they normally receive outnumber those districts with normal rainfall. When this happens over a prolonged period, such as four to six weeks, drought-like conditions set in and the administration prepares for these conditions.

There are a group of ‘early warning indicators’ for the kharif crop (sowing June to August) which are looked for at this time of the year. They are: (1) delay in the onset of South-West monsoon, (2) long ‘break’ activity of the monsoon, (3) insufficient rains during June and July, (4) rise in the price of fodder, (5) absence of rising trend in the water levels of the major reservoirs, (6) drying up of sources of rural drinking water, (7) declining trend in the progress of sowing over successive weeks compared to corresponding figures for ‘normal years’.

On this list, points 1 and 2 are true, 3 is true for June and July until now, 4 and 5 are true, we have insufficient information for 6 and 7 but from mid-May there have been a number of media reports on water scarcity in the districts of peninsular, central and northern India. Thus the state of the ‘early warning’ indicators taken together have triggered the issuing of the government’s drought crisis management plan. Please read the rest at the India Climate Portal.

Written by makanaka

July 18, 2014 at 12:00

A month of truant rain

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RG_four_weeks_rain_graphic_20140709

We now have rain data for four complete weeks from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and for all the districts that have reported the progress of the monsoon. The overall picture is even more serious than reported earlier because of the falling levels of water in the country’s major reservoirs. [05 to 11 June is the first week. 12 to 18 June is the second week. 19 to 25 June is the third week. 26 June to 02 July is the fourth week.]

Using the new measure of assessing the adequacy of district rainfall (and not the meteorological cgradations that is the IMD standard), in the fourth week of the monsoon the number of districts that reported normal rains in that week (+5% to -5%) is 18; deficient 1 (-6% to -20%) is 31; deficient 2 (-21% and more) is 437; excess 1 (+6% to +20%) is 17; excess 2 (+21% and more) is 113; no data was reported from 25.

Monsoon 2014 and a third dry week

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05 to 11 June is the first week. 12 to 18 June is the second week. 19 to 25 June is the third week. The bars represent the weeks and are divided by IMD's rainfall categories, with the length of each category in a bar showing the proportion of that category's number of districts. The colours used here match those used in IMD's weekly rainfall map (below) which displays the category-wise rainfall in the 36 meteorological sub-divisions (but not by district).

05 to 11 June is the first week. 12 to 18 June is the second week. 19 to 25 June is the third week. The bars represent the weeks and are divided by IMD’s rainfall categories, with the length of each category in a bar showing the proportion of that category’s number of districts. The colours used here match those used in IMD’s weekly rainfall map (below) which displays the category-wise rainfall in the 36 meteorological sub-divisions (but not by district).

IMD's weekly rainfall chart, 19 to 25 June

IMD’s weekly rainfall chart, 19 to 25 June

We now have rain data for three complete weeks from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and for all the districts that have reported the progress of the monsoon.

The overall picture remains grim. In the third week of the monsoon the number of districts that reported normal rains in that week (-19% to +19% of the average) is only 74. No rain (-100%) was reported by 71 districts Scanty rain (-99% to -60%) was reported by 221 districts, deficient rain (-59% to -20%) was reported by 125 districts, excess rain (+20% and more) was reported by 129 districts, and there was no data from 21 districts.

IMD_districts_table_3_weeksThe Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, of the Ministry of Agriculture, has already issued its guidance to states on the contingency plans to be followed for a delayed monsoon. That is why it is important to make available the district-level normals and rainfall departures – the meteorological sub-divisions are too broad for such analysis and are irrelevant to any contingency plans and remedial work.

By end-June, when the IMD updates its outlook for the rest of monsoon 2014, we expect more detailed assessments of the districts to be publicly available – the agromet (agricultural meteorology section) already provides this to the states, with state agriculture departments given the responsibility of ensuring that the advice – which is especially important for farmers to plan the sowing of crop staples – reaches every panchayat.

Written by makanaka

June 28, 2014 at 09:09

An epidemic of misreading rain

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RG_rain_misreadings_201406

Who can you turn to? It’s easier to list those whom you shouldn’t turn to, the top rankers being the country’s press and television wallahs, followed at a not respectable distance by academic commentators, then come the government blokes and bureaucrats (some of whom do know the difference between isobars and salad bars, I’ll give them that). Lurking behind this cacophonous mob are the boffins of the IMD and its associated scientific chapters, a number of whom have got their sums right, but who aren’t given the space and encouragement to tell the great Bharatiya public what said public is yearning to hear simply because regulations forbid, just like it was in 1982, 1957, whenever.

As I may have mentioned before, this is Not A Good Thing. It has taken about a decade of mission mode tutoring (how the UPA bureaucrats loved that phrase, mission mode) to get the media wallahs to see the difference between weather and climate. A few may even have learned to read a wet bulb thermometer and puzzle their way through precipitation charts.

RG_rain_misreadings_2But overall, the profusion of android apps that profess to show cool graphics of clouds with lightning bolts erupting topside so that our humble ‘kisans’ know when it’s going to rain (i.e., by looking down at their screens instead of up at the sky) has not helped the Bharatiya public make more sense of less rain. We have squadrons of Insats and Kalpanas buzzing around the globe beaming pictures from the infra-red to the infra dig back home, every 60 or 90 minutes, busy enough to crash a flickr photo server, but the knowledge that said public can sift from it is sparse, rather like the rainfall over Barmer, Bikaner and Ajmer.

And so it goes, with the waiting for rain replacing with an equal banality waiting for Godot but with a far larger cast of characters, most of them insensible to the greater climatic drama being played out, 30,000 feet overhead, and at the poles, in the vast turquoise swells of the eastern Pacific where a malignant El Nino is brooding, in the Himalayan valleys where crystal zephyrs have been shoved aside by an airborne mat of PM2.5, or to the desiccation that creeps outwards from our towns and cities (7,935 of them, India’s triumphant ‘growth story’) that have enclosed sweeping hectares with cement, asphalt, and the hot foetid belches of factories and air-conditioners. GDP, they have been told, is the great liberator.

And that is why we have in place of the quiet concern of our forefathers in their dhotis, an electronic jumble of shrill alarm. “Weak monsoon intensifies drought like conditions in India” was one such headline, the text beneath finding the most ludicrous connections: “… threat of food inflation and weak rural demand in the first year of the Narendra Modi government”. Naturally, the cheerleaders of a demand-centric world cannot do otherwise.

RG_rain_misreadings_1And likewise with “Weak rains deliver India’s new Modi government its first economic challenge” that desultorily spies impending delays in the “sowing of main crops such as paddy, corn and sugarcane” and which notes mournfully that “about half of all farms lack irrigation systems” and, even worse, that “reservoir levels are only a fourth of last year’s levels”, this last despite the best efforts, ham-handed though they are, by the Central Water Commission to show India (for Bharat knows) that the reservoir levels in the 85 major reservoirs are low, but not much lower at this point in 2014 than they were in 2013. The GDP bullies dislike contrary numbers, and would go cross-eyed were someone to mischievously mention the existence of 4,845 large dams in India (the blue-ribboned 85 included) whose many water levels we don’t in fact know at all.

And similar vapidity from another quarter, which like its peers cloaks ineptitude with what it takes to be appropriate jargon, “The cumulative rainfall across the country has so far been 45 per cent below the Long Period Average (LPA) for 1951-2000” and brandishes even more frightful credentials with “a further breakdown of rain data recorded in different meteorological subdivisions shows that normal rainfall has been recorded in only seven of the 36 regions”. But which sere farmer and her wise daughters consider in their universe such things as meteorological subdivisions, when their world is what Balraj Sahni and Nirupa Roy in 1953 showed us so lambently, is no more than ‘do bigha zamin’?

But still the misreading gathers pace, as vexed fixations upon an existence merely economic chase away plain common-sense. For rains may come or rains may go, but in tractors – for so we are instructed by the agents of hardened merchants – we trust. To wit: “… tractor sales have typically expanded at a double-digit pace in the years when rains have disappointed… In the 11 years between fiscal 2003 and fiscal 2013, rains fell short by 5% or more on six occasions… In four of those six years, tractor sales grew at a double-digit pace”. Let us then leave behind our cares and go rollicking over the dusty, still dustier now, plains of the Deccan in tractors tooting red.

But a shadow of monsoon yet for Bharat, and at June’s end. It is past time that the prattling ceased and the learning began.

The new measure of monsoon

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Districts reporting monsoon data, over two weeks, colour-coded under a revised categorisation (explained in the text) for weekly rainfall. The left bar in each pair is the second week, the right bar is the first. Most districts are coloured light red, signifying rainfall much below the weekly normal. Peach is for the lesser deficient category. Green is normal. The two blue hues - lighter and darker - are for the two excess categories. It is immediately apparent that 485 out of 618 reporting districts (78%) have experienced less rainfall than they should have at this stage of the monsoon.

Districts reporting monsoon data, over two weeks, colour-coded under a revised categorisation (explained in the text) for weekly rainfall. The left bar in each pair is the second week, the right bar is the first. Most districts are coloured light red, signifying rainfall much below the weekly normal. Peach is for the lesser deficient category. Green is normal. The two blue hues – lighter and darker – are for the two excess categories. It is immediately apparent that 485 out of 618 reporting districts (78%) have experienced less rainfall than they should have at this stage of the monsoon.

The changes that we find in the patterns, trends, intensity and quantity of India’s monsoon now require an overhaul in the way we assess what is satisfactory or not for environmental and human needs. India’s summer monsoon is already late, and where it is late but active it is weak. The indications from the central earth science agencies (including the India Meteorological Department), from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, from the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting are that it will be the end of June before the summer monsoon system settles over central India and the western Gangetic plains. Even so, it will be a relief from the searing temperatures but will not assure sowing conditions for farmers and cultivators, nor will it add to the stores of water in major and minor reservoirs.

In this commentary written for India Climate Portal, I have explained why IMD’s hoary top level categorisation of rainfall weekly quantities in the subdivisions must be replaced, both for what they describe and for how frequently they are described. These currently are: ‘normal’ in a subdivision is rainfall that is up to +19% above a given period’s average and down to -19% from that same average; likewise excess is +20% and more, deficient is -20% to -59% and scanty is -60% to -99%. The ‘normals’ are calculated based on the mean weekly rainfall for the period 1951-2000 with monitoring done in 641 districts distributed amongst the 36 meteorological subdivisions.

By categorising rainfall ‘normals’ and departures from  ‘normal’ to become more administratively impelling – these proposed corrections also simplify the interpretations possible for rainfall above and below ‘normals’ – greater awareness and preparedness of administrations, key agencies and citizens to the deficiencies of monsoon can be fostered. For the district tables below therefore, I have re-cast the categories as follows (all based on the long-term average provided by IMD): Normal in a district is +5% to -5%; Deficient 1 is -6% to -20%; Deficient 2 is -21% and more; Excess 1 is +6% to +20%; Excess 2 is +21% and more.

Whereas, for the same second rainfall week the IMD categories were ‘No Rain’ in 80 districts, ‘Scanty’ in 241 districts and ‘Deficient’ in 130 districts, under the proposed revision they will simply be ‘Deficient 2’ with 449 districts – thereby showing dramatically how widespread the conditions of the late and weak monsoon 2014 are – and ‘Deficient 1’ with 36 districts. Please read the rest at India Climate Portal.

Weighing the monsoon winds for El Niño

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Ignoring the torpor of the summer heat, the India Meteorological Department has dusted off the statutory paragraphs that give us in the sub-continent a first indication of what monsoon for the year may be like. The result this year, both scintillating pages, has been made that much more gripping by the inclusion of El Niño. The IMD’s treatment of the normal variables whose interplay determine the nature of any monsoon is perfunctory – which is surprising as the regional and international earth observation networks spare no detail and tend to inundate us with data and analysis.

Clouds and wind, land and farm. The equation that all rural districts make at this time of the year, but which is becoming more difficult with every year that climate change strengthens its grip.

Clouds and wind, land and farm. The equation that all rural districts make at this time of the year, but which is becoming more difficult with every year that climate change strengthens its grip.

But the IMD, especially for the south-west monsoon, has always preferred to be spartan. Perhaps there is some philosophical dictum that us non-meteorologists have yet to grasp, and if so then the only criticism we may be permitted, if the IMD had its way, its to ask for more such teaching. But the IMD does not have its way, and we publics whose monies support its work must continue to demand from the recalcitrant department better, much better, application and communication of its work.

The official release, ‘Long Range Forecast For the 2014 Southwest Monsoon Season Rainfall’, is delivered to us by the IMD, Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES). There is the usual paragraph claiming a profundity of observation and of the IMD being a standard-bearer of superior method. “Operational models are critically reviewed regularly and further improved through inhouse research activities,” says the IMD. But what we still have, in a tradition that is probably three generations old, is the two stage forecast (one in April, the second in June). [Here is the release in Hindi.]

I think this proves how out of step the IMD – and the Ministry of Earth Sciences (grand title isn’t it?) – is with what citizens of India experience in their villages, towns, fields and hills. For, the south-west monsoon no longer arrives in the first week of June, and it no longer begins to depart by mid-September. Climate change began to alter that comfortable rhythm years ago, but the IMD’s forecasting grindstone is the same, never mind how many new earth observation satellites India pelts into orbit.

IMD_monsoon_2014_probability

With all these provisos, stated and implicit, what has the IMD told us?

First, that the “experimental ensemble forecast based on IMD seasonal forecast model (SFM) indicates that the rainfall during the 2014 monsoon season (June to September) averaged over the country as a whole is likely to be 88% ± 5% of long period average (LPA)”. This means that in places it could be as low as 83% of the average, and no more than 92% of the average. Combine this with the assessments about the 2014 El Niño and we can see why, far from being satisfied that the IMD is considering both the monsoon and El Niño, we ought to monitor independently both and force the IMD to become more responsive.

Second, that “the experimental forecast based on the coupled dynamical model forecasting system suggest that the monsoon rainfall during the 2014 monsoon season (June to September) averaged over the country as a whole is likely to be 96% ± 5% of long period model average (LPMA)”. This is a more hopeful set, but also shows that the IMD, by telling us of two different scenarios from two models, is hedging its forecast, which is not what its job is.

Third, the IMD has said “the experimental five category probability forecasts for the 2014 monsoon season rainfall over the country as a whole using the experimental dynamical prediction system are 33% (deficient), 20% (below normal), 24% (normal), 6% (above normal) and 17% (excess)”. This means, using this ‘probability’, that a normal monsoon for 2014 has only a 1-in-4 chance whereas a deficient monsoon (that is, total rain less than 90% of the long period average) has a 1-in-3 chance.

This is a prognosis that stands between serious and grim, for a 10% drift towards the lower side of an expected average, for any of our 36 agro-meteorological regions, can spell ruin for farmers and severe hardship for water consumers. How have central and state governments prepared for such a forecast? We have no information, most likely because there has been no preparation (there are contingency plans for the chronically drought-prone districts, but these are normally triggered when there is an official declaration by  the state government that there are conditions of drought in parts of the state). Elections or no elections, El Niño cares not, and it is up to the state governments to make preparations for a monsoon 2014 whose delivery of water already looks uncertain.