As monsoons hit the coastal regions of Kerala in India, hopes run high not just across the country, but also throughout the region, even through neighbouring countries. The South Asian countries of India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Bhutan and Sri Lanka are largely impacted by the monsoon rains, so much so that a major part of their respective economies depend on it. However, it is also a very thin line. While optimum rains mean a year full of good crop yield and smooth functioning of several sectors, erratic rainfall patterns can wreak havoc on lives and finances people. How important are the rains for the region and are there steps being taken to prevent disasters caused by rains?
Monsoon in India
According to The Indian monsoon and its economic impact, published in GeoJournal, the economic impacts of monsoon are far-reaching for India, as the country receives about 75% of its total rainfall during the four months, June to September. India, being majorly dependent on agriculture, requires good to very good rainfall as various economic activities are intertwined with the monsoon. One factor that is impacted directly by the amount of rainfall is the production of food grains and major crops, the second is the functioning of hydroelectric power stations, located across the country. When hydroelectric power plants are able to function at their full potential, the power supply for industries can be managed efficiently.
Impact of monsoon on Nepal’s economy
The book, The Monsoon Shock in Rural Nepal, published by the World Bank in 2019, presents Nepal’s perspective on monsoons. Similar to India, almost 80% of the total annual rainfall in Nepal is witnessed between June and September. Talking about the rural economy, the monsoon is considered the key driver, which also impacts the income variability of the rural population. Monsoon is all the more important in the areas where water-intensive paddy crop is cultivated, as the crop requires excessive water during the initial six weeks of planting. Similarly, monsoon also replenishes the groundwater reserves, which are crucial for dry season cultivation of crops. Any variation in the monsoon rain can impact crop behaviour for the whole year. The authors raise a very insightful point on the impact of monsoons on the incomes of these communities. Based on the area cultivated, taking into consideration the agricultural and non-agricultural income, and the household size, the per capita income (considering a household as one unit), is measured nine months after the wet season harvest. This denotes a long-lasting impact of monsoons in these communities. The impact of the rains also has implications for social protection policies in the lowland areas of Nepal in particular.
Pakistan and the horror of 2022 monsoon floods
Elaborating on the floods of 2022, which caused massive destruction across Pakistan, the authors of a journal article, The Impacts of Climate Change on Monsoon Flood Situations in Pakistan, highlight the incidences of short-period heavy rainfalls in provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan. Such heavy rainfalls have the potential to impact the weather and overall rainfall pattern over a larger area, leading to situations of flooding, soil erosion and displacement of people. Thousands of farmers had to skip a whole season of crops, owing to floods, that not only washed away fertile soil but also killed scores of thousands of livestock.
The country has been witnessing huge variations in the rainfall patterns across both Indus basin provinces and this change is visible on a year-to-year basis. Another trend noticed by the authors is that the nature of rainfall in the dry western and the eastern parts, which are moist, is vastly different. The changes are associated with climate change; however, it is not possible to link these changes with human activities.
Channelizing floodwaters, solution to many problems
The World Meteorological Organization, in its paper, Flood and Drought Management through Water Resources Development in India, explores the possibilities of channelizing floodwater in India. According to the paper, inadequate riverbank capacity to contain the high flows resulting from heavy rainfall is the primary cause of flooding. According to the report, the responsibility for water resources development, flood control, and related policies rests with the Union Ministry of Water Resources at the central level. Various central organizations assist in executing these functions, including the regulation and development of inter-state rivers. The Ministry of Urban Development manages urban water supply and sewage disposal, while rural water supply falls under the jurisdiction of the Department of Drinking Water under the Ministry of Rural Development. Hydroelectric and thermal power matters are handled by the Ministry of Power, and pollution and environment control fall under the purview of the Ministry of Environment and Forests.
Monsoon rains are becoming more and more unpredictable and they are not anything like they used to be a few decades ago. This change requires more vigilant effort to prepare resources to combat flooding and prepare for the dry period if monsoon rains are below par.