Wednesday, July 29, 2009
The number of throat swab samples coming from various parts of the country and being tested for the H1N1 virus at the National Institute of
Virology (NIV) has increased twofold in the last few days.
The number, which was earlier restricted to an average 20 samples per day in June, has now jumped to around 40. Moreover, on July 27, the NIV received 90 samples on a single day the highest on a day in the last three months.
"The viral infection will subside after the monsoon. Since it is a self-resolving as well as self-limiting virus, there is no need to panic," Mandeep Chadha, deputy director of NIV, told TOI on Tuesday.
The NIV has carried out 1,000 tests in the last three months. "Of which around 60 per cent of the samples were of IT professionals," said Chadha.
"The H1N1 group of viruses proliferate more when the weather is humid and cool," said Chadha. It's an airborne virus and humidity and cool weather conditions are conducive to its survival, she said.
The spread of the swine influenza A (H1N1) virus is thought to occur in the same way seasonal flu spreads. The influenza spreads from person to person through the respiratory route. If a person already infected with the virus coughs, sneezes or even talks or sings loudly, he or she generates aerosols or droplets of saliva with virus particles in it, Chadha said.
"These particles get deposited in the respiratory tract of a nearby person, who, in turn, gets infected. These particles also get deposited on inanimate objects (called fomites) like napkins, handkerchiefs, door knobs etc. The virus can remain viable on such surfaces for a week or two. If a person touches these surfaces and then touches his or her nose, mouth or eyes, the virus can get transmitted to that person," said Chadha.
According to city-based microbiologist Siddhartha Dalvi, "Influenza epidemics in colder countries are usually seen in winter. In tropical countries like India, epidemics can be seen throughout the year. In fact, there is a propensity towards more epidemics in the monsoon. This is usually due to a combination of high humidity, relatively cooler temperatures and indoor crowding of people."
Rickshaws and cars ploughed through waist-high water in the Bangladeshi capital of Dhaka on Tuesday as the city received its biggest rainfall in a single July day for 60 years.
In the six hours after 01:00 am (1800 GMT Monday), 290 millimetres (11.42 inches) of rain fell, according to officials.
"It's the highest single day of rain in July since 1949," said Dhaka meteorologist Ayesha Khatun, adding that more downpours were forecast.
Six people were killed after standing on powerlines that were under the water, police told AFP.
The flooding brought the city to a standstill, with schools and offices unable to open and many of its 12 million residents stranded in their homes.
Much of Bangladesh has been experiencing drought conditions as the monsoon season, which runs from June to the end of September, has brought little rain.
Last week the government ordered free electricity for farmers to pump underground water after shortages threatened the summer rice crop, which accounts for 40 percent of food grain production.
Farmers had held special prayers this week to bring on rain to irrigate their land so that summer rice can be sown.
There are 1,200 privately set up weather stations in India, and the number is increasing- report by Archita Bhatta & Rohini Rangarajan
The companies are penalized for every weather forecast that goes wrong. In case of temperature, for example, the margin of error allowed is one degree. "We are paying a private weather company for accurate forecast data because this data could prevent losses of up to Rs 20 lakh," Jayanta Chatterjee, assistant general manager of NDPL, said. "The price of one unit of power can vary from Rs 1.5 per unit to Rs 15 per unit depending on the demand. We calculate the power required for the next day based on that forecast and buy the power when the demand is still low."
May 28 and May 30, the maximum temperature in Delhi fell from 41°C to 35°C. The cost of a unit of power also fell from Rs 5.5 to Rs 1.08. "Weather conditions play a vital role in demand forecasting," a Reliance Infrastructure official explained.
Being forewarned about the weather also helps prepare for contingencies. When Power Grid Corporation, a public transmission utility, learnt of the high probability of fog last winter through Skymet, it hired helicopters to clean the transmission lines. This helped prevent tripping caused by a combination of fog and pollution. Fog in the presence of pollutants on surface of insulators provides an alternate low resistance path, which causes flashovers and tripping of transmission lines.
The survival of several other businesses is closely linked to advance warnings regarding the weather. Oil rigs, for example. Skymet provides Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) forecast for their offshore rigs. "Along with surface weather parameters we track sea weather-wave, swell, gust, wind-for the oil company," said Jatin Singh, managing director of Skymet. The rigs have to be shut down if there is a cyclone. Otherwise, they may catch fire. Besides, ships ply to and from the rigs transporting oil; the company needs weather data to ensure the safety of these ships.
For other businesses, like weather-based crop insurance, the companies set up automatic weather stations, thus, increasing weather coverage. These stations mainly consist of sensors mounted on a pole. In contrast to manual weather stations, automatic weather stations can measure temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction and rainfall every hour and send the data to computers via cable or satellite.
Companies like National Collateral Management Services Limited (NCMSL) specialize in setting up automatic weather stations. The company was launched in 2004 with the support of several banks like HDFC, Bank of India and Canara Bank; IFFCO and the National Commodities and Derivatives Exchange to provide farmers with warehousing and certificate of crop quality so that they can get low-interest credit from banks. In 2004, weather-based crop insurance was introduced in India. The next year NCMSL diversified and started setting up automatic weather stations.
Srinivas Rao, vice-president, NCMSL, said the company has set up 400 weather stations across 16 states in India. It charges between Rs 1,000 and Rs 10,000 per month for the data. For data to be supplied every 10 minutes, the price is the highest: Rs 10,000 per month.
"When a company wants data for a particular place we set up stations only if an IMD station is not there. We complement the IMD," said Rao, who imports these stations from the US. Each automatic weather station costs between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh, depending on the type of data required. But INGEN, a sister company of Weather Risk Management and Services, prefers to build its own stations, which comes to Rs 25,000 each.
There are 1,200 privately set up weather stations in India, and the number is increasing. Rao has orders to set up 50 more stations within July. ICICI Bank's weather-based crop insurance scheme works around weather stations. "We buy weather data like temperature, rainfall, wind speed and wind direction from IMD and private companies like NCMSL and INGEN as these help us verify our claims," said Aditya Jain of ICICI -Rural that provides crop insurance in 15 states. Once the weather conditions cross or fall short of laid down parameters for a crop, the farmer can raise a claim.
ICICI Bank has grape cultivators in Maharashtra 's Pune-Sangli-Nashik belt as clients. Grape farmers choose the crop phases they want to cover and also the location of weather station used for calculating the claim. They get weather updates from the forecasters the bank subscribes to. India 's farmers are still not direct clients of private forecasters.
Increasing unpredictability of weather is another reason private forecasters are flourishing, Anuj Khambhat, director of Weather Risk Management and Services, believes. "More farmers are availing of insurance because of frequent crop loss due to frequent changes in weather," he said. Insurance firms, therefore, need more weather stations.
News channels form another major market for weather forecasting companies. Attractively packaged weather-related data is good business. Today 70 per cent of the business generated by weather forecasting companies comes from media houses-both television and print.
"We take weather forecasts from private companies because it comes as a map with graphics, which is more suitable to us," said a Zee News executive. "There is less hassle in packaging the information at our end." If packaging drove media companies from IMD to private weather forecasting companies, power distribution companies switched mainly because private forecasters provided data more frequently. India certainly needs to improve forecasting infrastructure.
IMD's modernization plan includes increasing the density of its automatic weather stations. In 2007-08, the Centre sanctioned a Rs 950-crore plan, under which 550 automatic weather stations, 55 Doppler radars for data on clouds, and 3,600 rain gauges will be installed across the country. Of these, 125 automatic weather stations have been set up.
But even these installations will not be enough. An IMD official said regional changes are so palpable that every district needs at least four stations, which means a total of about 25,000 stations. "At present, we have installations at a distance of 100 km each. But we definitely need more," AB Majumdar, scientist at IMD Pune, said.
With more companies entering the business of weather forecasting there are fears of weather forecasting gradually turning into a paid service altogether-the US came close to privatising its public weather forecaster in the early 1980s. The mention of increasing private business to IMD officials tends to get their hackles up. For forecasting one needs historical data and current observations, Majumdar explained. "Nobody has either the infrastructure to record as many observations as IMD or the historical data," he said. "Accuracy depends on infrastructure. If somebody is claiming that he is giving better predictions than IMD, he is lying," said another official. At the same time, he added, while general forecasting is IMD's responsibility, private agencies would do a better job of providing customized forecast data.
The growth of the private industry can, however, spur IMD to upgrade its services. The World Meteorological Organisation says "no single government or agency has the necessary resources to address all the challenges on its own". It encourages public forecasters to work with international agencies, other organizations, academia, the media and the private sector to improve the range and quality of critical environmental information and services. At the same time capabilities of the national weather forecaster need to be upgraded since with changing weather pattern India 's millions of farmers will need free forecasts more than ever before.