Gloom over rainfall

THE FEARS EXPRESSED by the Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation in Bangalore about rainfall being below normal this year would make the scene look bleaker than it is already because of the acute drought ravaging many parts of the country. The poor prospects are seen as a break with the 12-year run of normal monsoons.

There could not be a gloomier prediction than the one coming from the Bangalore centre particularly for the people in the southern region. The failure of the northeast monsoon between October and December last year is making its impact felt right now with all water sources having gone dry and the people, particularly of the most vulnerable sections, having to wait in serpentine queues to get their requirements of water from tankers under a blazing sun. If there is not much hope of the southwest monsoon, which normally sets in in May or June, being as plentiful as it should be, the agony over the entire country would be prolonged during the rest of the year as well. If, in spite of this, the Government is hopeful of successfully managing the situation, it should be because of the 12-year long spell of normal monsoons which have ensured adequate availability of water and foodgrains elsewhere in the country for being rushed to the drought-stricken regions. The huge increases in food production during the years of the Green Revolution have no doubt taken the country very far away from the earlier years when failing monsoons and drought exposed large populations to famine, prolonged starvation and death. This qualitative change on the agricultural scene since independence is wholly attributable to the response of the farming fraternity to the promises held out by high-yielding varieties. This does not, however, justify any complacency as one could readily see from media projections of both people and cattle on the move from the drought-stricken parts in search of water and food. The country still remains exposed to capricious monsoons when they take a break with a succession of normal downpours.

India's vulnerability to failing monsoons continues to throw a heavy responsibility on the governments for ensuring that if the hardship caused to the people cannot be wholly eliminated, it should be resolutely contained. Since the people suffer much more when water sources dry up during a sizzling summer coming in the wake of a deficient monsoon, relief measures should focus on alleviating the misery. According to an assessment made by the Central Water Commission, scarcity conditions creep in when the per capita availability of water drops below 1,000 cubic metres. The total annual availability of renewable fresh water in India is placed at 1,869 billion cubic metres which ensured a total per capita availability of 2,213 and 2,000 cubic metres in 1991 and 1996 respectively . The growing population would reduce the availability to 2,018 cubic metres in 2000 and could come dangerously close to scarcity conditions when it drops to 1,479 cubic metres in 2018. A national policy should provide for transfer of water from surplus basins to deficit areas, adoption of practices for efficient and economic use of water and laying of emphasis on water conservation. The other measures include rain water harvesting and watershed management.

The drifting away of rain-bearing clouds after their taking shape from evaporation of sea water continues to mock at the people living in the coastal areas. Efforts at artificial rain-making by puncturing these clouds have so far not been very successful. A better understanding of the formation of the clouds and how their drift could be controlled should go a long way towards getting more rains for the parched lands.