This year, the rains were exceptionally bad in June and the monsoon has been unable to recover from such a big setback. Now with half the rainy season over, the chances are that the monsoon will end in a drought. The country as a whole received little more than half the rain it usually gets in June. Mercifully, rains in July were only a little below average. Even so there was a cumulative deficit of about 20 per cent in countrywide rainfall by the end of that month. Based on an analysis of rainfall data for 130 years, leading atmospheric scientists have pointed out in a journal paper that when the June-July rainfall for the entire country has more than a 12 per cent shortfall, there is a 67 per cent probability of the monsoon ending in a drought. (Atmospheric scientists typically define a drought as a deficit of more than 10 per cent in the nationwide rainfall for the entire season.) In short, as July came to an end, it was clear the monsoon was in trouble. Moreover, the El Nino that is brewing in the Pacific Ocean appears to be affecting the monsoon. This warming of the equatorial waters of the central and eastern Pacific leads to enhanced cloud formation in that region, thereby drawing away the moisture-laden winds needed to sustain the Indian monsoon. In 1997, favourable conditions in the equatorial Indian Ocean were able to counter a strong El Nino and the monsoon enjoyed slightly above-average rains. This year, unfortunately, the Indian Ocean has not helped out and could instead be adding to the monsoon’s woes.
August usually provides nearly 30 per cent of the monsoon rainfall. Poor rains in the opening days of this month have pushed the seasonal deficit for the country as a whole to 25 per cent. If the rains fail to pick up this month, a bad situation could become a whole lot worse. Northwestern India has already been badly hit, with the rainfall deficit now standing at 40 per cent. It is from this region that the monsoon starts its withdrawal, a process that often begins in early September and then extends gradually to the rest of the country. So the rains in August will have a huge impact on this region. A poor monsoon no longer brings with it the spectre of famine but droughts have been shown to significantly reduce foodgrain production and the GDP. There has been a sharp drop in paddy cultivation this monsoon. “In no case should we allow our citizens to go hungry,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh proclaimed at the recent conference of State Chief Secretaries. At a time like this, with a crisis looming, it is imperative that the central and State governments set aside their differences and work in unison for the common good.