Tuesday, October 06, 2009
The death toll from flooding in southern India rose to 222 on Monday after days of torrential rain left vast tracts of land devastated and displaced millions of people, officials said.
The floods have submerged scores of villages in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states, disrupted transportation and communication links and forced whole villages to seek shelter in crowded government-run relief camps.
In Karnataka, the worst-hit of the two states, 172 people have died and more than 50,000 are staying in relief camps. Hundreds of thousands more have sought shelter in the homes of friends and relatives, R.V. Jagdish, a government spokesman said.
In neighboring Andhra Pradesh, 50 people have died and around 1.5 million have been displaced and were sheltering in 100 relief camps, said state chief minister K. Rosaiah.
Medical teams have been rushed to the relief camps in both states, the officials said, amid fear of disease spreading in the crowded shelters.
On Monday, flood waters in both states had begun to recede after a pause in the rain starting Sunday, the officials said.
The head of India's ruling Congress Party Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister P. Chidambaram are expected to conduct aerial surveys of the affected areas in both states, Jagdish said.
Just weeks ago, most parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka were suffering from severe drought. Weather officials say an area of low pressure in the Bay of Bengal has caused the sudden, torrential rains. More rain is forecast for the area over the next 24 hours.
Mumbai's weather has been erratic since December, an indication of the worldwide phenomenon of climate change, says Dr R V Sharma, deputy director general, India Meteorological Department (IMD).
The city had 76 mm rain on Monday with the maximum temperature plummeting to an uncharacteristic 24.7°C in Colaba and 25°C in Santacruz. As Newsline traced the weather over the past year, "anomalies" showed since mid-December.
Untimely clouds replaced the winter nip. IMD had said these were non-rainy, formed due to unusual interaction between the easterly and westerly systems. Yet, December ended on a rather chilly note, Santacruz recording 12.8°C on December 31, the second lowest December temperature in a decade.
The cold winter came to an abrupt end on New Year's Day, as an incursion of northeasterly and easterly winds lifted temperatures to around 18.4-30.6°C and in Colaba and 15.3-31.6°C in Santacruz. By the third week, the maximum was 37°C, before dipping to 32°C. The minimum that winter remained around 20°C, two degrees above normal.
At the end of that month, when winter usually peaks, IMD said it was one of the four hottest Januarys in a decade with the temperature reaching 36°C and over on January 23 and 24.
Summer officially began on March 1 but the temperature was already touching 37°C, a degree above normal for the season. By March 10, the temperature had soared so high, it caused impromptu thunderstorms and localised rains. Such conditions lasted nearly a week. The Met department had said such local weather systems are caused due to severe moisture accumulated in a particular small region due to a steep rise in temperature.
April 1 had a maximum of 40.6°C, the highest in 57 years, after the 42.2°C of April 14, 1952. Soon after that, however, the mercury dropped as abruptly as a cyclonic circulation on the south Konkan belt on April 13 brought rainfall in several areas of south Maharashtra including Mumbai. By mid-April, Mumbai had settled at 33°C, but was still a degree above the season's normal.
Summer usually lasts between March 1 and May 31; this year, the first pre-monsoon showers came much earlier, on May 20 across the western suburbs and the city. Pre-monsoon showers are expected by the first week of June, about seven to 10 days before the actual monsoon begins on June 10. This year, the currents had hit Karnataka nearly 20 days before schedule.
Yet, despite the early promise, the southwest monsoon did not reach Mumbai till June 24, a fortnight late. This was due to Cyclone Aila. It was the second longest delay in half a century; in 1959, the monsoon had hit Mumbai on June 25.
By end of the month, the city had a 50 per cent rain deficit.
Now, with rain when the monsoon is supposed to be drawing to an end, Sharma of IMD said, "These can been seen as the regional effects of the worldwide phenomenon of global warming. IMD had earlier issued a warning about temperature increase in the city. Cooling is occurring faster at the higher level and heating faster at lower levels. The normal temperature ranges are changing."
He said the current weather conditions are posing a major challenge to meteorologists. "Earlier such inconsistent occurrences were noticed in the extreme regions; now tropics are beginning to see them."
Milind Majumdar, a senior scientist working on the climate modelling region at IITM, Pune, does not see a link with global warming. "The weather in Mumbai is going through a phase, or in other words, the season is changing. At this time, the wind flow shifts from a southwesterly to a northeasterly direction. This year, a low pressure system over the Bay of Bengal got trapped in the transitional systems, bringing rains to several regions of the southern peninsula," he said.
The amount of groundwater pumped out by Delhiites and others across northern India is highest in the world and is contributing as much as
5% to the total rise in sea levels.
A new study using satellite data has found that the region - a swathe of over 2,000km from west Pakistan to Bangladesh along north India - extracts a mindboggling 54 trillion litres from the ground every year, a figure that's likely to cause serious concern over the future of water availability.
The study, conducted by Virendra Mani Tiwari from National Geophysical Research Institute in Hyderabad, along with scientists from University of Colorado, US, found that the average depletion of groundwater level in the Indian part of the region was an alarming 10cm a year.
"We found the region of maximum groundwater loss centred around Delhi and included Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and west Uttar Pradesh," Tiwari told TOI. The study was published on September 17, 2009 in the prestigious US-based Geophysical Research Letter.
The research for the first time puts hard numbers to the water loss due to groundwater extraction in the region that's home to around 10% of humanity. And the scenario is scary. The study found that the net loss of ground water was around 25 trillion litres a year.
The water that is pumped out eventually reaches the sea through rainfall or runoff from the land. ''We found that the 54 trillion litres that's extracted from the ground in this region leads to a sea-level rise of 0.16mm. That's roughly equivalent to the contribution to sea level rise from melting Alaskan glaciers which is around 5%. This is also the largest rate of groundwater loss in any comparable-sized region on Earth,'' Tiwari said.
The study combined data from GRACE (Gravity Recovery And Climate Experiment) satellite with hydrological models from 2002 to 2008 to reach their conclusions. They used gravitational field changes detected by GRACE, corresponding to gain or loss of mass, to compute the groundwater levels. The satellite is sensitive to water level changes of up to 1cm.
Tiwari pointed out that high level of groundwater depletion should also be seen in the context of climate change models which predict increase in extreme weather event in the region. ''Extreme weather events like heavy spells of rain do not recharge groundwater level. This means the region is likely to witness acute shortage of water in the foreseeable future,'' he said.
Interestingly, the study found significantly less groundwater exploitation in south India. It says, ''The trends are considerably smaller than the negative trends in the north, and could be due to a combination of increased reservoir impoundment, mis-modelled naturally varying storage and (along the southeast coast) tectonic signals related to the Dec 26, 2004 Sumatran earthquake.''
Heavy rain continued to lash the catchement areas of the district for the fifth day on Saturday. According to sources, Subramanian and his wife Gomathi of Thiruppathisaram near Nagercoil had a miraculous escape, when the sidewall of their house collapsed and fell outside.
The harvest in Boothapandi, Thazakudi, Veeranarayanamangalam, Myladi, Anjugramam, Seethapal and Erachakulam was affected as the paddy fields were submerged in rainwater.
Tapping of latex in rubber plantations in Kulasekaram and in the surrounding areas, the brick production at Thovalai, Chaenbagaramanputhur and Erachakulam and salt production at Swamithoppu, Palkulam and Kovalam were also affected.
The maximum rainfall of 47.2 mm was recorded at Kannimar followed by 35 mm in Surulode, 31 mm in Nagercoil, 23 mm in Chittar II, 21 mm in Chittar I, 17.2 mm in Pechipparai, 17 mm in Puthen dam, 16.8 mm in Perunchani, 14.9 mm in Boothapandi and 10.4 mm in Aralvoimozhi.
The water level in Pechipparai dam stood at 25.50 feet, 53.65 feet in Perunchani, 6.04 feet in Chittar I, 6.13 feet in Chittar II and 4 feet in Poigai dam.