By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The prediction of normal rainfall in March by India Meteorological Department (IMD) in the range of 83-117 per cent in the country on the basis of the long-period average made the people, the Centre, and the state governments a sort of psychological relief, belittling the seriousness of the concern that the country needs to have for the mitigation of the sufferings of the people due to heavy loss in crop productions and the GDP.
It must be noted that during January1 to February 27, 2023, the country witnessed below normal rainfall due to lack of western disturbances. Rainfall for the country as a whole was below normal by a massive 60 per cent cumulatively. The worst deficit was in Central India (-87 per cent), Southern Peninsula (-60 per cent), East and North-East India (-55 per cent) and North West India (-29 per cent). Keeping this in mind, the Centre must have concluded that even if there would be normal rainfall in March, the losses incurred in the fist two months of the year could not be compensated only by issuing mere certain health advisories and announcement of mechanism for monitoring the situation. Rather, the government should have initiated some concrete actions on the ground to protect the vulnerable ones.
Moreover, below normal rainfall is most likely over most areas of North-West India, West-Central India and some parts of East and North-East India. As on March 5, maximum temperatures were in the range of 35-38°C which were 3-5°C above normal over many parts of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Central and Peninsular India, Chhattisgarh and Odisha and in the range of 39-40°C which are 5-6°Cabove normal over Coastal Karnataka. They were in the range of 27-30°C which are 2-3°C above normal over Punjab,
Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, West Uttar Pradesh and north Rajasthan and in the range of 30-34°C which are 2-4°Cabove normal over rest parts of plains of India. It shows severity of the rise in temperature.
Production of fruits and vegetables are likely to suffer upto 30 per cent loss in yiled, while winter crops like wheat and rapeseed and other crops’ production are likely to decline upto 20 per cent, as estimated by various sources.
Indian Institute of horticulture research has estimated a loss of 10-30 per cent for different fruits and vegetable crops in different regions of the country. Mango, lychee, citrus crops like kinnow and oranges, bananas, watermelons and avocados have already been affected. Vegetables like cabbage, cauliflowers, leafy vegetables, and tomato etc has severely been affected. The have not only growing in smaller sizes but also with lower nutritional contents. Mango growers in certain regions, such as in Maharashtra have reported loss upto 40 per cent.
IMD has warned of heatwaves during March-May, however, has ruled out a repeat of record spikes in March-April of 2022. Even though there would not be a repeat of the last year, the damage has already been done that is far more than the last year. In 2020, a heatwave in March curtailed India’s wheat production to 100 million tonnes against local consumption level of 103.6 million tonnes. It led to ban of wheat export in May.
The latest advanced estimate had expected wheat production to a record 112.2 million tonne this year, which seems to be impossible now. If temperature remains above 30 degree Celsius, it would become a cause for serious concern, since the production would suffer 15-20 per cent. It may enforce India to allow even imports of wheat. Farmers in Punjab are stressed and the Bharatiya Kisan Union has demanded a package for farmers for their crop loss.
It must be noted that heatwave conditions prevailed this year in February one month ahead of last year, and has broken the record since 2019. The country’s average temperature was 29.5 degree Celsius, which was around 2 degree higher than normal. Last year in March and April India suffered brutal heatwave condition. March 2022, was the hottest and driest in 120 years, with temperature soaring up to 8 degree above normal. India underwent 200 days of heatwave conditions in 2022 five times more than the previous year.
El Nino weather condition is likely to bring hotter days ahead impacting even the monsoon and winter. NOAA has predicted high probability of 55-60 per cent between June – December 2033.
It does not only impact the Kharif crops in the country but also the Rabi crop thereafter due to deficient rainfall.
The situation is most likely to push up the food prices and the inflation. It has already been reported, even before the current heatwave occurred, that cereal prices are to remain high in the fiscal 2023-24.
Heatwave conditions would push up the power demand up to 20-30 per cent leading to power crisis. It would likely to impact industrial production. Labour market and productivity would suffer and GDP may decline more than what has been estimated.
It is also worth noting that about 75 per cent of India’s workforce relies on heat-exposed labour. A World Bank report had already projected on the basis of earlier trend of rise in temperature that India’s loss may account for 34 million job losses by 2030.
Health is another serious issue, and the vulnerable people need to be protected through proper water supply and healthcare system.
India must start preparing for such conditions and catastrophic situation in the right earnest. (IPA Service)