Wednesday, July 01, 2009
It was once said that Indian agriculture was a gamble in the monsoon. That was when traditional agriculture was practised and, with limited irrigation, was monsoon-dependent. With the growth of irrigation and new crop varieties and technologies, Indian agriculture appeared to be reasonably drought-proof. The gamble has returned with climate change - a long-term secular change in rainfall patterns going beyond the shorter term hydrological cycles with which we have long been familiar.
The south-west and north-east precipitation bring rain and floods from excess run-off, part of which is trapped in underground aquifers and more of which can be stored through induced recharge and rainwater and rooftop harvesting, watershed management and storages ranging from ponds and bandhs to larger storages behind multi-purpose dams. The winter westerlies bring snow to the northern latitudes and serve as a savings deposit with a delayed discharge of snow and glacial melt with rising temperatures through the spring and summer. This is the new hydrological cycle affected by global warming and climate change that we must learn to live with and manage.
Most storages, the Bhakra-Pong, for example, are depleted in relation to annual averages and there has been less snowmelt. Glacier recession in the Himalayas and the Karakoram implies higher glacial melt that will provide short-term well-being after which summer discharges will drop significantly. Lower run-off and diminished storages also entail loss of hydropower that could otherwise be used to lift groundwater, where available, and for industrial and cooling purposes.
India is a wasteful user of water and energy, with foolish politicians encouraging waste and misuse through free or concessional water to the 'poor' (which seldom reaches them). This has invariably resulted in poor or no maintenance resulting in asset deterioration. The government has followed a strategy of supply augmentation (necessary in a rapidly expanding economy) while ignoring the related and supremely important strategy of conservation through demand management. The country boasts some fine irrigation and power engineers, but they are trained and devote most of their attention to supply augmentation, whereas 'supply' could perhaps be augmented by as much as a third or more at a mere fraction of the cost by suitable demand management, more appropriate cropping patterns and pricing policies, better use of better technology (drip, sprinkler, recycling, improved maintenance, more efficient lighting systems), and superior regulatory mechanisms that are not handicapped by political interference.
The problems in Punjab and Haryana and the Cauveri basin largely stem from these factors, especially insistence on the paddy-wheat-sugarcane cycle rather than crop diversification, and antique systems of flood irrigation in the Tanjore delta. The argument about big and small dams, raindrop harvesting and surface and groundwater storage, especially large dams, is misplaced and often ideological. Each has its place in an ascending hierarchy. Large storages with huge catchments and commands provide a degree of insurance and carry-over benefits that micro- and mini-schemes simply do not provide. They have all to be worked in tandem through public-private partnerships. If farmers or consumers have ownership of a water supply scheme, or any segment of it, they will ensure efficient management, policing, maintenance and collection of service charges. Hence the importance of participatory irrigation management, which is evident in groundwater schemes.
Aberrant weather must be expected with climate change, with episodic cloudbursts such as those that drowned Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai some years ago and caused drought in Assam and the Northeast in some of the historically wettest regions in the world. In this situation, the rainfall must be captured when and where it falls, with destructive flood 'surpluses' caught behind dams. Further, given spatial and seasonal variations in rainfall patterns, water can and must be moved from 'surplus' to 'deficit' regions over time and space. This is what storage irrigation does, augmented by inter-basin and trans-basin transfers, a hoary practice in India and around the world. This is how the unimaginatively named Inter-Linking of Rivers (ILR) proposal was conceptualised, but never envisaged as a single mammoth 'project' except by uninformed politicians, judges and critics who combined to conjure up a myth that did no service to the basic idea. ILR survives and, apart from the Ken-Betwa link, two other west coast northward trans-basin diversions in Gujarat are under study.
Since rivers flow across national and internal political boundaries, they must be seen and planned in terms of natural resource regions. The Constitution provides for river basin authorities. But these have never been pursued on account of parochial political feuding, often resulting in wasteful schemes being taken up to pre-empt any raid on alleged surpluses. One brave effort, the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC), was killed by West Bengal within less than a decade of its launch. Maybe the institution of water markets (with independent regulators to oversee suitable safeguards for weaker players) and water parliaments (that bring together upper and lower riparians across river basins with statutory safeguards) could provide answers.
International rivers (the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra-Meghna systems) can also only be developed optimally through regional cooperation. Here, new strategies must be devised, including joint management and operation of sensitive projects. The Tipaimukh multi-purpose project in Manipur, which could immensely benefit Bangladesh too, suggests itself as a good candidate. The scare about Chinese plans to divert the Brahmaputra northwards is a piece of uninformed nonsense. More to the point, the Indian government should urge Pakistan to move forward on Indus II, providing for joint exploration, construction, operation and management of the Upper Indus basin on both sides of the Line of Control to ward off the common peril of climate change.
Meanwhile, if the delayed rains spread this week as expected and the country gets 85-95 per cent of July-September rainfall, drought can be averted with alternative cropping patterns and staggered load-shedding. Advancing the clock by 60-90 minutes for daylight saving could yield some dividends too while an expanded National Rural Employment Guarantee Act could stave off hunger and help build farm capital assets. Finally, long-term water management dictates a restructuring of the Ministry of Water Resources, the Central Water Commission and related agencies that are old fashioned supply-side organisations that lack the inter-disciplinary competence required to manage India's water future.
B.G. Verghese is a Visiting Professor, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi
Fearing the late arrival of the annual monsoon, scientists in India are flying through storm clouds seeding them with weather modification chemicals in hopes of artificially creating rain.
The monsoon's late arrival has left the ground parched and crops damaged as water shortages sweep through the cities. At least 100 people have been reported dead as a result of the disastrous heat wave reaching temperatures as high as 113F.
In Delhi some residents have resorted to sleeping in their air-conditioned cars during power cuts that can last up to 12 hours a day. The government of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh has even ordered all religious institutions to pray for rain.
The water shortage crisis exposes the vulnerability of the region that is so dependant on the monsoon, which governs the lives of about 740 million people living in the countryside.
The Indian government has utilized the American method of cloud seeding technology before, but now it is working to develop its own techniques to ensure that monsoon clouds will yield torrential rains. It will be funding a three-year experiment to find the best way to seed the monsoon clouds that appear across the sub-continent between June and September.
On May 17, The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, based in the western city of Pune (Poona), introduced the cloud aerosol interaction and precipitation enhancement experiment (Caipeex). "I'm not saying the cloud-seeding is the only solution," J. R. Kulkarni, the manager of the program, told The Times. "But in several different parts of the globe it has now been attempted and found to be successful, so it will definitely help to ease the situation."
Cloud seeding involves spraying chemicals into the air such as dry ice, silver iodide and potassium or sodium chloride, which causes moisture particles to expand, forming drops of rain that fall to the ground.
In the first part of the experiment, three scientists took a dangerous trip in a light aircraft through the rain clouds with their equipment every day for two to four hours, according to Professor Kulkarni.
"Yes, it's a little bit dangerous," he said. "Normally, people avoid the monsoon clouds - we go into them - but that's a part of the research." He explained that the equipment is used to measure the temperature, speed, chemical composition and moisture and particle levels of the clouds from the inside.
In the second part of the experiment, during the 2010 and 2011 monsoons, they plan to use two aircrafts to seed the clouds at random while rain gauges on the ground measure the precipitation.
Then, the final stage of the process will take place in 2011 through 2012 when scientists will do the tedious work of analyzing data, compiling computer models and drawing up guidelines on how to seed clouds.
India's cloud seeding experimentation started in 1951, but the technology has only been used sporadically. They have yet to succeed in drawing up a national policy for how and when it should be used. The largest cloud seeding program is in China, followed by Russia and Israel, and at least 24 other countries are known to use the technology.
Many critics argue that the endeavor is too expensive and that there are too many risks involved in compromising the balance of nature and conjuring the tempestuous monsoon waters, which is causing many disputes between neighboring states. Those supporting the method insist that it has the potential to create balance in rainfalls that flood much of eastern India every year, while the northern areas are parched.
India has a variety of traditions and rituals that are believed to bring rain. For example, in Vedic and Hindu rituals, frogs are married to supposedly please the rain god and conjure the monsoon. Rain summoning dances are also documented across the globe and are still used in the Romanian ritual of paparuda still performed in some villages.
In the ritual, a girl wearing a skirt made of knitted vines and small branches, sings and dances through the streets of the village, stopping at every house, where the hosts pour water on her. The people of the village follow her dancing and shouting.
Meteorologists use anemometers to measure wind speed, but you can estimate wind speed just by looking around. Watch how smoke rises in chimneys, how leaves move in trees, and how flags wave in the wind. Sailors and other people sometimes rate their observations of wind speed according to the Beaufort scale.
If you don't have an anemometer to measure wind speeds, you can get a good idea of how fast the wind is blowing just by looking at objects around you. In 1805, the British Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort devised an observation scale for measuring winds at sea. The Beaufort Scale measures winds by observing their effects on sailing ships and waves. Beaufort's scale was later adapted for use on land and is still used today by many weather stations.
Look at the diagrams below. Each represents one level on the Beaufort scale.
Compare the two pictures below of winds at different speeds on water with the Beaufort scale
While anemometers measure how fast the wind is blowing, wind vanes tell you from which direction the wind is blowing. And knowing where the wind is coming from might give you clues to the temperature and the amount of water in the air moving into an area. For example, winds from the south are often warmer and carry more moisture than winds from the north.