Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Mumbai facing water cuts as lakes run dry

India's financial and entertainment capital is facing a 30 percent cut in water supplies, despite an overnight deluge of monsoon rains on Wednesday that left some streets and homes flooded.

The civic authorities in Mumbai introduced the reduction on Tuesday as levels ran "precariously low" at the six lakes that supply the city's 18 million population with 3.3 billion litres (872 million US gallons) of water a day.

Like many Indian cities, Mumbai depends on the annual monsoon to replenish water stocks. The rains had been due to arrive on June 8 but only hit the city at the end of last month.

Since then, they have been intermittent. Heavy rainfall overnight Tuesday-Wednesday left many lower-lying areas under water and forced pedestrians to wade shin-deep through muddy water.

Colaba, in south Mumbai, received 73.7 millimetres (2.9 inches) of rain in the 24 hours to 8:30 am (0300 GMT), according to the Indian Meteorological Department.

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) official Anil Diggikar was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency: "We are facing a shortage of 250 million litres of water per day."

He said the one lake with higher levels can only supply the eastern suburbs, hitting the more prosperous southern and western parts of the metropolis.

Deputy municipal commissioner Pramod Charankar told the Times of India that there was currently enough water only for the next 20 days in those areas unless the monsoon picked up.

Owners of swimming pools, clubs and whirlpool baths have been told to reduce consumption, while supply to 32 construction sites has been cut, the daily said. Five-star hotels can expect reductions, it added.

"We hope to save about 200 million litres a day from the drive," Charankar added.

The BMC initially introduced a 10 percent water cut on June 8 then increased that to 20 percent on June 20.

Meanwhile, officials said only 10 percent of water stocks for irrigation projects were left in Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, while well below average rainfall had hit agriculture in other parts of the country.

"Paddy, which is the dominant... crop in (the northern states of) Punjab and Haryana will take a hit," professor Ramesh Chand, from the Indian Council for Agriculture, was quoted as saying by the Times of India.

Other crops, including pulses, maize cotton and sugarcane will have lower yields, as analysts raised the spectre of drought conditions in northern India, he added.

Weak monsoon predicted in Delhi, neighbourhood: IMD

Rain gods don't seem to be smiling on the national capital this year as the India Meteorological Department (IMD) Tuesday predicted a weak monsoon in Delhi and surrounding areas.

According to IMD, northwest India comprising Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh is likely to receive very little rainfall.

"Monsoon will remain weak in the national capital and neighbouring states. Delhi will not receive heavy rainfall this monsoon season," IMD director B.P. Yadav told IANS.

The Met department said the city will receive regular thundershowers from July 9, but ruled out the possibility of heavy monsoon rains in the region.

Monsoon is likely to be active over central India during the next two to three days and heavy showers are expected in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

IMD had predicted below normal rainfall for the country with the northwest region receiving the lowest rainfall compared to other areas. The region is likely to get 81 percent of the average rainfall, which is far below the national average of 93 percent.

Rainfall for the country in June was 48.8 mm against a normal of 101.7 mm with a deficiency of 52 percent. In northwest India, it was 21 mm, almost 48 percent deficient.

Drought threat looms over north India

The earlier prediction brought bad news. Now, the latest Met update on the monsoon seems to affirm that northern India is staring at a drought. As of July 6, monsoon was 44% deficient in the region that includes Punjab, Haryana and west UP - the granary of the country.

This is on top of almost nil pre-monsoon showers in the entire belt. Worse, the forecast for the next 10 days, crucial for the sowing of the kharif crop, says the region can expect scanty rain at best.

Time is running out for farmers. The north remains the only region where the monsoon didn't make up for lost time last week. While the monsoon was 43% deficient overall on July 2, by July 6, the deficit had come down to 37%. In the north, however, the shortfall rose another 2 percentage points in this period.

"Overall, the situation is improving everywhere except northwest India," said D S Pai, director of the National Climate Centre at IMD, Pune. "For this region, which includes J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and UP, we stick by our earlier prediction of 81% rain for the season."

B P Yadav, director, IMD Delhi, agreed the situation for northwest India didn't seem very promising. "We are hoping the monsoon will recover in the remaining two months. By July 9, the area is likely to start getting easterly winds that will bring rain and reduce temperature. But it's going to be very sporadic rain," he said.

Government is hoping late rains would mitigate the situation. But a lot of damage has already been done. "Paddy, which is the dominant kharif crop in Punjab and Haryana will take a hit. Other crops like bajra, jowar, pulses as well as fodder will suffer. Due to water stress, I except lower yields for standing crops like cotton and sugarcane as well,'' said Ramesh Chand, professor at Indian Council for Agricultural Research.

The one silver lining is that irrigation is well developed in the worst-hit areas. Said Abhijeet Sen, economist and member of the Planning Commission, ''Urgent steps to control the use of water and power need to be taken. If we manage to do that, around 80% kharif sowing can take place.''

Less rain also had a direct bearing on the power produced in the state though there was not a very big dip in generation. However, with rains continuing to play truant, the state's maize crop is in trouble. Director, agriculture, J C Rana, said maize could not be sown in over 70,50 hectares. Apple production in the state is also expected to fall to 1.80 crore boxes as against the normal of 3.2 crore boxes.

The situation is just as grim in Haryana. Delay in rainfall has created a major power and water crisis. Though the state government tried its best to deal with the situation with purchase of additional power from different sources, unscheduled power cuts continue to plague people, triggering protests in various parts of the state. "Yes, there is a huge gap between demand and supply, with shortage sometimes going up to 200 lakh units. But we are trying to bridge this gap by purchasing power," said Haryana power minister Randeep Singh Surjewala.

As in the rest of north India, monsoon arrived late in Uttar Pradesh and has since gone weak. The rainfall in UP has been 71% below normal so far. According to reports, paddy had been sown in only 25%-30% of its normal area in the state. Paddy sowing is usually complete by the first week of July. The sugarcane yield is also expected to drop by 20%.

The water scene in Maharashtra is grim with all irrigation dams having just 11% of water because of bad rainfall. In Mumbai, authorities announced that the city will get only 30% of its normal water supply.

The situation in Tamil Nadu is no better. Paddy farmers in the state are now hoping and praying for bountiful rains in Karnataka. For, only if the skies open up in Karnataka, the surplus Cauvery water will gush down to the Stanley reservoir at Mettur in Tamil Nadu to irrigate the agricultural fields in at least 11 districts. The water level in Mettur is abysmally low and its sluices remain shut even 20 days after it is scheduled to be opened for irrigating the fields in the Cauvery delta.

In West Bengal, the monsoon got delayed by nearly three weeks following the Aila that hit on May 25. Various theories were offered on what had turned the rains away. While the Met office claimed the cyclone had sucked away the moisture, a section of experts held the changing weather pattern responsible. But whatever be the reason, the state has suffered a 40% drop in the amount of rainfall received this season.

In Gujarat, urgent prayers are being held in many temples to invoke rain. The state received only 7cm rainfall till Tuesday which is just 8% of the average rainfall for the season. By this time last year, the state had got 18.9% rainfall and 47% in 2007


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ENSO update

Strong indicators of El Niño persist

Indicators suggest an El Niño event is developing across the Pacific Basin. Conditions have reached a point that, should they persist at such levels through the remainder of the southern winter and into spring, 2009 will be considered an El Niño year.

Leading climate models indicate that warming of the Pacific will continue for the next few seasons, with very little chance of the current development stalling or reversing.

Continuing El Niño signals include central Pacific Ocean surface temperatures around 1°C above average, and supporting sub-surface temperatures up to 4°C warmer than normal. Trade winds remain weaker than average, and there is an emerging signal of enhanced cloudiness near the date-line

Conversely, the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) rose over the past week to near zero. However, this would appear to be a response to local weather conditions near Darwin and Tahiti, rather than a long-term climate signal, and hence the SOI is likely to fall again in the weeks ahead.

El Niño events are usually (but not always) associated with below normal rainfall in the second half of the year across large parts of southern and inland eastern Australia.

After many weeks of positive values, the most recent value of the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), as measured by the Dipole Mode Index (DMI), was slightly negative. In the past, positive IOD values have been associated with drier conditions through south east Australia in winter and spring.

  • The Pacific Ocean sea surface is significantly warmer than the long-term average across most of the tropical Pacific, with El Niño thresholds having been reached in central to eastern areas.
  • A large amount of the sub-surface water of the tropical Pacific is also warmer than the long-term average, particularly in the east.
  • The latest 30-day SOI value is +1, while the monthly value for June was −2.
  • Trade winds remain weaker than normal across the western equatorial Pacific.
  • Consistent with an emerging El Niño, cloudiness near the date-line has recently increased.
  • All international climate models predict the tropical Pacific to continue to warm and to be above El Niño thresholds throughout most of the second half of 2009.

Emerging El Nino set to drive up carbon emissions

A key measure of El Nino weather patterns eased in June, suggesting the potentially damaging condition may be developing slowly, although India's monsoon will remain weak, Australia's weather bureau said.

An El Nino, which means "little boy" in Spanish, is driven by an abnormal warming of the eastern Pacific Ocean, and creates havoc in weather patterns across the Asia-Pacific region.

The Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), a key factor in identifying an El Nino that is calculated from monthly and seasonal fluctuations in air pressure between Tahiti and Darwin, eased in June to negative 2 from a negative 5 in May, the bureau said on Tuesday.

A sustained negative SOI often indicates El Nino, a condition that can bring drought conditions to Australia's farmlands, weaken the Asian monsoon critical for Indian crops, stir up storms in the Gulf of Mexico and cause flooding in Latin America.

"Minus 10 is an often used threshold level and it just got to there a few times, but it hasn't been sustained at that level," Sam Cleland, author of the Bureau of Meterology's weekly Tropical Climate Note, said on Tuesday.

"I don't think we'd make the call just yet that we have an El Nino event in place," he said ahead of the bureau's El Nino update on Wednesday.

Its last report said an El Nino was very likely in 2009 and may be declared in coming weeks. The last El Nino was in 2006.

Across the globe an emerging El Nino weather pattern threatens to cause droughts and floods and trigger a spike in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from burning forests.

El Nino is a warming of tropical Pacific waters that affects wind circulation patterns. Its effects on the global climate vary from one event to the next.

Trying to predict how El Nino will be affected by global warming is a major challenge, scientists say, although data shows El Ninos have become more frequent and more intense over the past three decades. The last event was in 2006.

"I don't think there are any studies that are saying El Nino will become less severe but there is disagreement among the climate models on whether they will become more severe or stay steady," said Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Center in Sydney.

Getting the forecasting right is crucial for farmers in planning their crops, and even for the oil industry in assessing storm risks in the Gulf of Mexico.

"Certainly we know from past climates that El Nino intensity has varied. As climate changes, we know that the intensity of El Nino can wax and wane over long time scales," he said.

Australia's Bureau of Meteorology said last week an El Nino was almost certain this year and the signs point to one already well underway. A formal declaration could be within days

One of the biggest threats from El Nino comes from the release of vast amounts of greenhouse gases through the burning of dried out forests.

Scientists say there is very strong correlation between El Nino and drought in Southeast Asia, which has large areas of carbon-rich peat forests

"People are waiting for appropriate conditions to get rid of the forests," said Pep Canadell of the Global Carbon Project in Canberra.

"So the drier the El Nino the more incentive there is for people to take advantage of those unique conditions," he said. Most of the burning occurs in Indonesia.


During the very intense El Nino of 1997/98, fires in Southeast Asia released between 2.9 billion 9.4 billion metric tons of CO2, blanketing the region in a choking haze. The smoke equated to between 15 and 40 percent of global fossil fuel emissions and is credited with causing a spike in global temperatures.

By comparison, average annual emissions from forest fires in Southeast Asia between 2000 and 2006 were 470 million metric tons of CO2, while average fossil fuel emissions for the same period in the region were 543 million metric tons of CO2, said Canadell.

Over the past two years, forest fire emissions have plunged because of wet weather.

"I think the next El Nino we have here in Southeast Asia is going to be a big one in terms of emissions," said Canadell, whose project issues annual reports on the planet's "carbon budget."

"The longer it takes for an El Nino to come, the bigger the emissions will be because the more people will be keen in burning because they have been waiting all this time."

The effects of the current El Nino, if confirmed, could already be apparent in the weakening of equatorial trade winds that normally blow strongly east to west and in the amount of cloud in the eastern Pacific.

"As El Nino is developing right now we should start to experience its impacts as we speak," said Harry Hendon, a senior climate scientist at the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne.

"Historically our biggest impacts are in the (southern) spring. But we start to see them as early as winter," he said.


Normally, warm ocean water is piled up in the Pacific around east Asia causing rain and moisture-laden winds that flow over parts of Australia.

But during El Nino, the warm waters migrate east toward South America, taking the wet weather, often causing floods in Colombia, Ecuador and elsewhere.

It's unclear how intense the next El Nino will be but Hendon said even weak El Ninos can have a dire impact on rainfall in Australia, depending on where the warm water pool was in Pacific.

"El Ninos that are peaking in the central Pacific have a bigger negative impact on rainfall on Australia than El Ninos that peak further east," said Hendon.

Complicating the picture, scientists now know there are at least two types of El Nino, one in which the warm waters pile up against the Pacific coast of equatorial South America, and the other in which warmest of the waters are in the central Pacific.

Scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology in the United States released a study last week showing that periodic warming of the central Pacific was linked to an increase in Atlantic hurricanes, a finding that could change the way oil firms assess storm risks for operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

Previously, El Ninos in general were thought to suppress hurricane activity, but the latest research suggests this is only for episodes where the warmest waters are off the South America.

"The fundamental problem is we don't simulate El Nino very well with our existing climate models," said Hendon. "That makes it a real challenge to run your model for a future climate and see how El Nino will behave."

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