Early Spring Rains bring Climate Disaster for farmers in India

It was bit of a shock to get up to a VERY wet Sunday on March 1, 2015, having slept past midnight the previous night with a ‘dry’ weather. When I checked my inbox, the message from Manoj Misra of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan was waiting to provide a link to Accuweather.com site[1] and also satellite image from India Meteorology Department (IMD) site[2]. It looked ominous: “A potent storm will drop unusually far south as March begins, blasting India and Pakistan with heavy thunderstorms, flooding rain and burying mountain snow.” Northwestern India and Northern Pakistan were to face the maximum impact, but the impacts were to reach far down south right upto Karnataka. As the site said it was a rare event: “It is rare for widespread substantial rain such as this elsewhere across northern and central India”.

Accuweather image predicting rain, snow and thunder in early spring in India

Accuweather image predicting rain, snow and thunder in early spring in India

In fact another accuweather page[3] provided detailed forecast for the Asian spring movements and predicted early and wet spring for the Himalayas with rounds of rain and snow.

Asian Spring Forecast by Accuweather

Asian Spring Forecast by Accuweather

The Northern most parts of Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and neighbouring Nepal and Pakistan could risk heavy snowfall that could also trigger avalanches. In fact another webpage of the same site[4] warned that 230 people had lost lives avalanches & floods in Afghanistan (numbers could rise and rescue operations were still underway) when this event passed that country. That added fear, considering that Kargil in J & K, which was on the path, had the landslide dam in Zanskar Valley[5] that could be now at greater risk of burst, besides creating more such landslides, avalanches and floods.

Sure enough, the news of damages started pouring in from North India and further south even from Maharashtra.

[POST SCRIPT: Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh informed the Rajyasabha on March 4, 2015 in response to short duration discussion on this matter that crops over at least 5 million ha or 8% of winter crop area has been damaged by “heavy and widespread rains” upto 100 mm in isolated places and at places accompanied by hailstorm. (see: http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/rains-have-damaged-crops-on-50-lakh-hectares-of-land-radha-mohan-singh/articleshow/46462962.cms) The state wise damage estimates available are: 2.7 m ha in Uttar Pradesh, 1.4 m ha in Rajasthan, 0.75 m ha in Maharashtra, 49000 ha in W Bengal and 6000 ha in Punjab. The estimates from many other states including Haryana, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and J&K are not included in this, the minister said these states too have suffered. The minister appealed the state governments in affected districts to use the funds like contingency funds to help the farmers.]

Farm Damages in North India: According to a report in the Hindustan Times[6], on an average, untimely rains on Feb 28-March 1, have caused 10-20% damage to standing crops like wheat, mustard and gram. Some fruits like mango, cashew, orange and grapes have been affected quoting Dr N Chattopadhyay, deputy director general, agricultural meteorology division, Pune. He said most parts of Punjab, Delhi, Haryana, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, in addition to Northern Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh were affected.

Damages to river bed cultivation Due to the untimely heavy rains, rivers in North India are carrying huge flows. For example, Yamuna River was carrying peak of 87364 cusecs at least for 3 hours during the midnight between March 2-3, 2015[7], this is likely to affect seasonal riverbed cultivation (called प्लेज locally) in thousands of ha of land. The Haryana Irrigation Department closes the release of water to Eastern and Western Yamuna canal when inflow at Hathnikund barrage go above 70000 cusecs (this was 60 000 cusecs earlier) to save the flow of silt and boulders brought by the flooded river into the canals. This increases the releases into the river downstream from the barrage.

Flooded Yamuna on March 3, 2015 (Photo by Anil Sharma, Kanalsi Village, Yamuna Nagar, Haryana)

Flooded Yamuna on March 3, 2015 (Photo by Anil Sharma, Kanalsi Village, Yamuna Nagar, Haryana)

Such high flows in all likelihood will cover entire active river course flooding away the tender melon saplings.

The 240 km long riverbed stretch from Hathnikund to Delhi where riverbed cultivation is practiced (Googleimage by Bhim Rawat)

The 240 km long riverbed stretch from Hathnikund to Delhi where riverbed cultivation is practiced (Googleimage by Bhim Rawat)

Freshly irrigated wheat crops in floodplain areas along River Yamuna received severe damages due to excess of rain water.

Old poor couple mourning the damaged crop on Yamuna River bed in Yamuna Nagar Dist

Old poor couple mourning the damaged crop on Yamuna River bed in Yamuna Nagar Dist

“Floodplain crops do not require much of water and moderately dry ground suits them better”, Sharafat Ali, a local farmer told SANDRP.

Riverbed Farming Yamuna at Ramra (Google image by Bhim Rawat)

Riverbed Farming Yamuna at Ramra (Google image by Bhim Rawat)

All the riverbed farming will get damaged totally said Iqbal a local farmer from Ramra, a village of Shamli district located on the bank of River Yamuna. Such a situation could also be prevailing on Yamuna riverbed downstream from Delhi and other river beds.

Flood water entering riverbed farms at Ramra village in Shamli district Photo by Mustkim Mallah

Flood water entering riverbed farms at Ramra village in Shamli district Photo by Mustkim Mallah

Mustkim Mallah of Ramra village in Shamli district in UP says that at least 50000 families are involved in riverbed cultivation in Uttar Pradesh districts of Sahranpur, Muzzafarnagar, Shamli, Ghaziabad and Baghpat. These families are landless and the riverbed cultivation is their only source of livelihood and such calamity is likely to deprive them of their annual income.

The riverbed cultivators had faced similar disaster in June 2013 in the aftermath of Uttarkhand floods and that event too clearly had climate change footprint.

MAHARASHTRA A report in The Times of India says[8] crop loss in Maharashtra due to the unseasonal rains in Feb 28 and March 1 is Rs 1000 crores and in Yavatmal alone in Vidrabha (Mah), 17000 ha of land have seen such damages. It says: “Officials said wheat, jowar and chickpea crops were hit by the heavy rain, as were fruit plantations, including mango orchards, vineyards and pomegranate fields. In some cases, harvested crops and seeds were also destroyed.”

Just a year ago, farmers in the state bore the brunt of strong hailstorms, as SANDRP had reported[9]. In 2014 monsoon, 90 lakh farmers were hit by one of the most widespread droughts witnessed in the state, one which devastated the kharif crop.

Another report in the same paper says[10] 5000 farmers have been affected in Nashik dist alone in Maharashtra due to unseasonal rains.

The Economic Survey for current year made public last week gave an interesting bit of news: “NABARD has sanctioned a pilot project of Rs 21 crore on climate change adaptation in Maharashtra to develop knowledge, strategies, and approaches that will enable vulnerable communities to adapt to the impending impacts of climate change.” Maharashtra farmers indeed need such a project and help in this season, the way they have faced the climate induced droughts, hailstorms and unseasonal rains now and in the past, but there is no information what is the status of this pilot project. As we noted earlier, the Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate Change being done by TERI is yet to be finalised.

Scientists see direct link of this with Climate Change A paper by scientists[11] of Pune based Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology says: “The climate of the Western-Himalayan (WH) region is sensitively dependent on precipitation during the winter and early spring months (December-to-April, DJFMA) produced largely by synoptic weather-systems known as “Western Disturbances” (WD[12]), which originate from the Mediterranean region and propagate eastward as troughs and cyclonic lows embedded in the sub-tropical westerlies.” The paper specifically says that “Our analysis suggests that pronounced warming trends over the Tibetan Plateau in recent decades, arising due to the elevation dependency of the climatic warming signal…” is responsible for this. The direct link of increased winter and early spring rainfall and snowfall with the climate change has been accepted by scientists.

That Tibet is experiencing warming and highest rates of glacial retreat has been proved[i], but this is the first time that increased incidences of Western Disturbances, which have impacts thousands of kilometers away from Tibet, are attributed to warming and climate change over Tibet! This also highlights the inter-connected-ness and global footprints of Climate change.

Climate Scientists in any case have been saying that in every unusual weather event now, the climate footprint is undeniable. And we have been seeing large numbers, to illustrate just the two this season:

  • The unseasonal rains of 56.8 mm on March 1, 2015 makes it the wettest day in 100 years for Delhi.[13]
  • In Dec 2014, Pune city received the highest monthly rainfall since 1942[14].

Will Parliament take this up? It was good go see that the Members of Parliament have already raised the issue of such damages on Monday, March 2, 2015[15], seeking special package for the farmers who suffered damages. However, there is no recognition that those affected are climate change victims, nor is there any attempt at providing justice to them for the impacts they are suffering for no fault of theirs. The governments or the UN agencies or IPCC or other bodies, no-one, it seems is interested in taking any step to acknowledge this reality.

In addition, there is need for adequate provision for Crop Insurance and Weather based insurance schemes which is far from the situation today. Instead of issuing only relief packages of thousands of crores (as in the case of Maharashtra), the government can also provide more benefits to farmers if its invests in robust weather based insurance, weather monitoring and forecasting and crop insurances.

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, while presenting the annual budget for current in Parliament on July 10, 2014 said: “Climate change is a reality which all of us have to face together. Agriculture as an activity is most prone to the vagaries of climate change. To meet this challenge, I propose to establish a “National Adaptation Fund” for climate change. As an initial sum an amount of Rs 100 crore will be transferred to the Fund.” That was a rather belated initiative amounting to tokenism, it seemed considering the scale of the problem. Worryingly, as the year for which this was meant comes to a close later this month, the Union Budget provided the status of this minimalist initiative: It is still work in progress with scheme still being formulated, financial sanction has not even been given.

We hope the members of Parliament will raise this issue in Parliament with necessary vigor and force in the interest of the suffering farmers and other communities to not only ask the government to provide justice to these climate victims but also demand Indian government to ask justice for these victims at international forum.

Himanshu Thakkar, SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)

With inputs from Bhim Singh Rawat and Parineeta Dandekar

END NOTES:

[1] http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/rare-march-rain-storms-to-targ-1/43009940

[2] A few hours latter Facebook scan told me that Anand Sharma, Director of Uttarakhand IMD office in Dehradun had already provided forecast of this, but I had not checked it.

[3] http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/accuweather-asia-spring-2015-weather-forecast/42669642

[4] http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/slow-moving-storm-to-bring-flo/42794229

[5] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2015/02/01/landslide-dam-blocks-zanskar-river-tributary-threatens-valley/ and further two updates.

[6] http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/untimely-rains-ruin-wheat-mustard-and-gram-crops/article1-1322395.aspx

[7] Information from Haryana Irrigation Department managing Hathnikund Barrage on Yamuna River.

[8] http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31814&articlexml=Erratic-rains-cause-crop-loss-of-Rs-1000cr-03032015009044

[9] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/maharashtra-farmers-face-impacts-of-hailstorms-and-states-inaction-plan-on-climate-change/

[10] http://epaperbeta.timesofindia.com/Article.aspx?eid=31814&articlexml=Nearly-5000-farmers-hit-in-Nashik-dist-alone-03032015009038

[11] See abstract here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00382-014-2166-9, full paper needs paid access. Authors of the paper titled Changes in western disturbances over the Western Himalayas in a warming environment are: R. K. Madhura, R. Krishnan, J. V. Revadekar, M. Mujumdar, B. N. Goswami, the paper has been published in Climate Dynamics in February 2015, Volume 44, Issue 3-4, pp 1157-1168

[12] A low pressure system originating over the eastern Mediterranean sea and moves eastward.

[13] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/City/Delhi/Delhi-gets-wettest-March-day-in-100-years-as-freak-storm-blows-over/articleshow/46436363.cms

[14] http://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/winter-rain-decoded-by-iitm-researchers/99/

[15] http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Unseasonal-heavy-rains-flatten-crops-in-north/articleshow/46438089.cms

[i] http://www.nature.com/news/tibetan-glaciers-shrinking-rapidly-1.11010

4 Comments on “Early Spring Rains bring Climate Disaster for farmers in India

  1. The growing unpredictability of the weather is certainly alarming. Integrating more crop diversity on farm, also trees and livestock, might help buffer the damage caused by erratic climatic conditions. The challenge is huge.

    Like

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