The Hindu Explains: From Preet Bharara to Tamil Nadu's climate crisis

Tamil Nadu: Where climate paradoxes are becoming the norm

A dried up dam in Tamil Nadu.  

From the days of being marooned in the coastal parts of the State and ferocious cyclones leaving a trail of destruction to severe drought caused by recurring monsoon failure, Tamil Nadu is emerging as a State of climate paradoxes with its volatile weather patterns. It’s a bitter irony for the State that witnessed unprecedented floods in its north coastal districts in 2015 that pushed its north-east monsoon rainfall to an excess of 52% to now be in the grip of a severe drought. The devastating blow to agriculture and water resources came with 2016 turning out to be one of the driest years.

Why this drought?

The State was hit by the worst annual rainfall in 140 years as it received just 543 mm of rain against the yearly average of 920 mm. This is the lowest recorded after 1876 when Tamil Nadu registered 534 mm, leaving a shortfall of 42 %. While a weak La Nina over the equatorial Pacific that followed a year of strong El Nino is cited as one of the reasons for the drought, mismanagement of surface water resources, over-exploitation of groundwater to compensate for the loss of resources in dry waterbodies and the lack of timely policies have pushed the State into a drought.

Meteorology experts note that the south-west monsoon rainfall often complements or compensates the State’s rainfall during the north-east monsoon, which accounts for a major share of the yearly rainfall, though it may not have the same impact as in the neighbouring States. Last year was particularly bad for farmers across all districts as both monsoons failed to bring sufficient rain.

Population density in many regions of Tamil Nadu, which is higher than other drier regions like Rayalaseema in Andhra Pradesh, also influences the impact of drought. The meagre share of Cauvery water received from Karnataka added to the farmers’ distress in the delta region. Driven by recurring crop failures and mounting debts, several farmers ended their lives or died of cardiac arrest.

Tamil Nadu: Where climate paradoxes are becoming the norm

Cuddalore, Puducherry and Namakkal were among the worst affected, with a north-east monsoon rainfall deficit of 80%. In 11 districts, including Nagapattinam, Salem, Erode and Dharmapuri, the deficit is above 70%. As all districts recorded below normal rainfall, the State government declared Tamil Nadu drought-hit after many agitations, caused mainly by farmers’ suicides.

A recent survey by the Tamil Nadu Federation for Women Farmers’ Rights found that women in farming families bore the brunt of crop failure and the death of family heads.

The survey revealed that the systematic destruction of water resources, rampant sand mining and lack of timely and adequate compensation triggered the agrarian crisis. In its budget for 2017-18, the State government has noted that 32.30 lakh farmers were suffering crop loss to an extent of 50.35 lakh acres. Besides announcing ₹2,247 crore in subsidy relief to farmers, it has sought ₹39,565 crore in assistance from the Centre for drought relief initiatives.

However, the lack of water resources for crops is feared to lead to a shortfall in paddy cultivation, influx from other States and a hike in the prices of essential commodities. Experts at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University have raised concerns over the failure to obtain target crop yields, including tree crops, owing to soaring temperatures. Drought has dealt farmers a double blow as the paddy crop failure will increase the fodder crisis, hitting livestock production. Several parts of the State are already experiencing acute drinking water shortage. Given the climate variability in which rainfall intensity is set to be higher and distribution will be limited to a few days, the State government must chalk out plans to augment the storage capacity of waterbodies and protect waterways and encourage farmers to adopt crop diversification, create farm ponds and use fewer water-intensive crops. Unless the State government draws up a long-term strategy to manage its resources, prioritise agrarian needs and come up with better crop insurance policies, Tamil Nadu will not be able to break the vicious cycle of droughts and floods.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 7:43:05 AM |

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