Is South India heading for worst-ever drought in history?
The entire South India is staring at perhaps the worst-ever drought, yet so far this grim forecast has failed to get the national attention it deserves.
On Tuesday, the Tamil Nadu government declared drought in the state, after 144 farmers ended their lives between October and December, 2016.
The retreating northeast monsoon, usually unnoticed owing to the singular importance of the larger southwest monsoon, in 2016 was the worst ever over the last 140 years, since 1876.
Hit by shortages from both monsoons, Tamil Nadu, where the winter crop depends more on northeast monsoon than in any other Indian state, reported a 33 per cent drop in the winter sowing of rice.
The failure of the northeast monsoon and sketchy southwest monsoon is evident across the South. As 2016 ended, South India’s combined reservoir levels were 34 per cent of capacity, which is 22 percentage points less than 56 per cent, the average water availability over the last 10 years.
Reservoirs in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Kerala now report the highest deficits nationwide. Tamil Nadu reservoirs are 82 per cent short of normal levels—the highest deficit in India currently, while those in Andhra Pradesh are 53 per cent short, Karnataka 39 per cent and Kerala 37 per cent, First Post reported.
Meanwhile, Karnataka declared drought in 110 out of 177 talukas or administrative units in October. On an average, the state used to get 280mm and 206mm of rainfall in July and August respectively, but in 2016, it was deficient by 17% and 39% in the respective months, according to Karnataka State Natural Disaster Management Corporation.
Karnataka had suffered its worst dry spell in close to half a century in 2015. In fact, the state has not received adequate rainfall for the past six years.
Meanwhile, Kerala is staring at the worst drought in 115 years. The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) has called upon the government to brace itself for the impending crisis. For the first time ever, the state might soon impose a water rationing system across households and industries as recommended by the KSDMA. Irrigation has already been stopped across three districts in the state.
Though the state government had declared Kerala a drought-hit state in October itself after the initial monsoon setback, its severity is being realized only now. Kerala earlier in 2012 had faced the worst drought in 100 years.
While 2012 recorded a deficient of 24 per cent in the southwest monsoon, this year it is a record 33.7 per cent short. Also in 2012, the northwest monsoon showers compensated for the initial loss, but this time round these rains have just stayed away — a negative 61 per cent.
In October, the Andhra Pradesh Government declared 245 mandals in seven districts of the state as drought-affected. Anantapuramu, known as a perennially drought-hit, accounted for the highest number of 63 mandals followed by Chittoor with 53.
Telangana is yet to ‘assess’ the situation. A study of previous years shows the state delays declaring drought. The News Minute reported that during Kharif season in 2014, the Telangana government did not declare a drought, even though there was a 50 per cent rainfall deficit.
In 2015, the situation was worse. There was a 21% deficit rainfall during the monsoon season, resulting in a massive drop in rice production, with only 10% of the usual rice production in the state taking place. Despite several hundred farmers killing themselves, the state declared 231 mandals drought-hit, only after the end of the Kharif season in November.
No wonder, a shocking 1,358 farmers killed themselves in Telangana in 2015, according to NCRB data, the second highest number of farmer suicides in the country, after Maharashtra.