Winter rain 64% deficient, triggers water shortage

By Zia Haq

In the northwest, Rajasthan had the highest shortfall at -97%, followed by UP at -81%. In central India, Odisha’s shortfall was -99%. Daman and Diu has had no rains, with -100% deficiency.

India has received only a third of its normal winter rainfall during January and February, the lowest in five years, leading to water shortage in many states that could increase their cost of production, hamper productivity, and have implications for residual moisture for the early summer sowing cycle. The shortfall comes at a time of agrarian distress, frequent farmer protests, and a government effort to address structural issues in agriculture.

Between January 1 and February 21, rainfall in the country as a whole was 64% deficient, data from the India Meteorological Department shows. This translates to a “large deficiency” in meteorological terms.

Last year, rains in these two main winter months were 5% surplus.

In the northwest, Rajasthan had the highest shortfall at -97%, followed by UP at -81%. In central India, Odisha’s shortfall was -99%. Daman and Diu has had no rains, with -100% deficiency.

Winter rains are mostly the result of western disturbances — moisture-laden winds originating in the Mediterranean region — which have been very weak, a Met official said.

States such as Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have been hit by water shortage. The worst impact of patchy winter rains has been on the Narmada basin, which lies in Madhya Pradesh.

On February 15, the Gujarat government was forced to shut down irrigation in four districts that are supplied by the Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river to give priority to drinking water.

Levels in the Sardar Sarovar reservoir have dropped 45%, the sharpest fall in 15 years, because of low reserves in the Narmada river basin.

Farmers in Surendranagar, Ahmedabad, Botad and Bhavnagar districts will not be given water for irrigation until the situation improved, according to a recent state government notice.

Water stress during winters doesn’t usually result in an agricultural drought because 80% of rabi or winter-sown crops, such as wheat, mustard, sunflower and gram, are mostly grown in irrigated areas. However, there could be productivity loss of up to 100 kg per hectare, especially in rain-fed or non-irrigated areas, said SD Attri, a scientist specialising in agricultural weather at the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

UP chief secretary Rajive Kumar has ordered potable water to be made available to parched areas of Bundelkhand through dedicated tankers.

Poor winter rains invariably increase the cost of cultivation for farmers, said N Chattopadhyay of the Pune-based agriculture meteorology division of the IMD. “Winter rains bring incremental benefit to crops. If rains are good, then farmers can skip a round or two of irrigation and save costs,” he said.

The poor rains may have to do with lower sowing area this kharif. An agriculture official said the total wheat area which was staring at a shortfall had improved. However, according to the first of the quarterly advance estimates, released on December 5, sowing of rabi crops was lagging by 5% for that time of the year. Revised estimates are due to be released next week.

Levels in 91 nationally important reservoirs critical for power, drinking and irrigation have dipped two percentage points — from 41% to 39% of their total capacity — latest official data released on February 16 showed. Of these 91 reservoirs, 37 have an installed hydropower capacity of more than 60 MW.

As on February 15, there was 63.597 billion cubic metres (bcm) of water in these reservoirs. The total storage capacity of these 91 reservoirs is 161.993 bcm. Reserves in a several states, including Rajasthan, Punjab, Odisha, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, have shown lower water levels than last year.

Source: Hindustan Times

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