No need to fear drought or flood this year: Earth Sciences Minister (Interview)

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By Joydeep Gupta, New Delhi, July 31: The rainfall between June 1 and July 28 during this monsoon season has been 95 percent of the long-period average and so there is no need to panic or fear drought, says Minister of State for Planning, Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Ashwani Kumar.

Reacting to reports that rainfall during the monsoon so far had been deficient and was affecting the sowing of crops, Kumar told IANS in an interview: "Last week's deficiency has not impacted the overall pattern. Looking at the country as a whole, I do not expect either drought or floods. The crop position will be near normal."

The four-month monsoon accounts for about 85 percent of India's annual rainfall, and is vital for farmers who make up over 60 percent of the country's population. Around two-thirds of the farmers have no irrigation facilities. Of the rest, most pump water from under the ground, and are dependent on rain to recharge the aquifers. So the way the monsoon winds blow has a 2-5 percent impact on India's GDP, and a below average forecast brought down the Mumbai stock market a few weeks ago.

But while rainfall in the country as a whole may have been 95 percent of the long-period (1951-2000) average of 89 cm, there has been concern about a more significant shortfall in India's bread basket, Punjab and Haryana. Asked about this, Kumar said: "Most of the agriculture there is irrigated, and it has rained enough to recharge the water table."

The monsoon has become more erratic in the last decade due to global warming and the large-scale presence of soot over the Indian skies for the rest of the year. While researchers from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune study this, farmers around the country have been demanding more accurate rainfall predictions so that they know exactly when to sow their crops.

Asked about this, Kumar pointed out that weathermen were already sending "potential fishing zone advisories" to about 60,000 fishermen via SMS, which told them where the shoals were and also warned them about storms. "I am happy to announce that the ministry plans to cover five crore such people (mostly farmers) in the coming five years and at the end of 10 years, every single farmer will be covered under this facility," he said.

Over the years, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has faced criticism whenever its monsoon rainfall predictions have gone wrong, so Kumar pointed out: "IMD had predicted 95 percent of the long-period average this year. The accuracy of the short-range forecast (up to two days) has gone to 75-80 percent, while that of the medium-range forecast (3-5 days) is now 70-75 percent."

But the minister accepted the limitations of the old statistical model which the IMD still uses to predict rainfall. "We need a dynamic model, especially for specific areas" such as the coast where a better model could give earlier warning of a cyclone.

(Joydeep Gupta can be reached at [email protected])

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