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Impact of El Nino

Impact of El Nino
Highlights

Impact of El Nino. India’s dependence upon the mercy of the rain gods is a given. Two thirds of the country depends on farm income and nearly half of the country’s farmland doesn’t have irrigation facilities.

India’s dependence upon the mercy of the rain gods is a given. Two thirds of the country depends on farm income and nearly half of the country’s farmland doesn’t have irrigation facilities. Large parts of the country have received robust pre-monsoon showers, but that is no sign of relief and the country is not out of harm’s way. Neither a good pre-monsoon phase, nor a timely start to the monsoon, guarantees steady rains in the months to follow.

After serious shortfall in monsoon last year, forecasts by India as well as many of the global weather scientists from the US, Japan and Europe predicting a normal monsoon this year had raised hopes. But the El Nino, a weather glitch marked by higher sea surface temperatures that was weak last year, is estimated to impact with greater severity this year. It has appeared fully formed on the radars for the first time since 2010.

To make thing worse, a local weather pattern that can sap the monsoon is forming over the Arabian Sea. It has resulted in heavier pre-monsoon showers. Yet, weathermen have apprehended that this actually could harm the monsoon, rather than help it. The weather gods, it seems, are unlikely to be kind to India. Developments related to El Nino may not be all that surprising because it has been much talked about for a few months now. But to meteorologists, its current update is significant. For the first time five years, all parameters for an El Nino have been reached.

For India, last year, the southwest monsoon ended up being 12 per cent below the 50 year average (1951-2000), which is estimated at 89 cm. This year, the Indian Meteorological Department expects the monsoon to be 93 per cent of the long period average (LPA). Like last year, when its initial forecast was 95 per cent, we may end up with less. It is no consolation that the IMD’s short-term forecasts have become more reliable in recent years. Therefore, if a truant monsoon dragged down agricultural growth to 1.1 per cent in 2014-15, from 3.7 per cent in 2013-14, we should be prepared for a repeat.

The government machinery is unable to cope with a weather-induced farm crisis, despite being armed with advance warning systems. Being fore-warned has not resulted in being fore-armed. The government’s response should be at three levels: technological preparedness, compensatory mechanisms, and macroeconomic policies. There is an urgent need to move away from the ‘monsoon calendar’ mindset, with erratic rainfall being the order of the day, and instead have a flexible cropping strategy in place.

The El Nino has global effects causing ripples around the world, from drier conditions in India to floods in Brazil. This should mean bad crops in many parts of the world and consequently, higher food prices. In sum, El Nino may prove to be a dampener for farm development and overall economic recovery in a harried world.

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