Flash Droughts in India

What are Flash Droughts

The climate of India is fascinating in many ways. It gives life to agriculture, festivals, diverse lifestyles with its seasonal rhythm. However, India also witnesses all grades of disasters brought about by extremes of these seasons- by the virtue of nature or due to human interferences. One such less-researched and lesser-known phenomenon is ‘Flash Drought’.

Flash Drought is a condition of drought which is usually witnessed during the monsoon season in various regions of India. It is characterized by very low soil moisture due to very high temperatures, low precipitation and more sunshine. Flash droughts are characterized by rapid advance and intensification unlike slow advance of conventional droughts. Flash droughts are generally witnessed during the dry spells of monsoon or delayed onset of monsoon.

The ‘break in monsoon’  which occurs around mid August causes sudden stop in monsoon rainfall over large parts of India and temperatures surge greatly. It is during this period of two-three weeks that various pockets witness extreme levels of evapotranspiration and loss in soil moisture especially the ‘green water’ which is the water present in soil because of plant transpiration.

This condition progresses rapidly and can stay for several months until another spell of rainfall comes. For example, In Madhya Pradesh, this monsoon season while on average an above normal rainfall was registered, dry-spell nearly one month long (flash drought) during July caused losses of 15% of the soybean crop.

How Flash Droughts are Detrimental for Agriculture

DroughtsFlash droughts are detrimental for agriculture, especially the kharif crop like rice, maize, etc. and can be associated with agricultural droughts. The condition is aggravated in areas which lack irrigation. During this condition, excessive reliance on groundwater which itself depletes during the lesser rainfall period.

Hence, even in the greatly anticipated rainy season of India drought like conditions break the backbone of farmers and the disadvantaged. Agricultural losses reduce food security of poor households. It reduces economic autonomy of people dependent on agriculture and the economy of the nation suffers as a whole. Not only agricultural produce is affected but overall life including livestock, vegetation is severely damaged.

Flash Droughts cannot be Determined/Predicted

pm fasal bima yojana PMAlthough India is witnessing flash droughts since many decades, yet it is not a formally recognized phenomena therefore, crop loss is not compensated by Crop Insurance. Government schemes like PM Fasal Bima Yojana do not apply to such conditions.

Such incidences of flash droughts can be attributed to the already erratic nature of monsoons. Climate change, which has made our ecosystems warmer is an additional factor.

Since, this catastrophe is quick it requires quick action and prediction. India’s drought prediction system is not updated and needs an overhaul to warn the vulnerability about dynamic phenomena like flash drought.

What Must be Done

Early warning systems, based on appropriate machine learning models, must be incorporated. Data such as soil moisture, precipitation, wind, pressure, solar radiation, etc. must be considered to prepare localised indices to predict the likely impact. Moreover, ensemble learning models which present better results can be considered.

The standardized precipitation index used by IMD is based only on rainfall, which is inadequate to study and produce useful results for flash drought prediction. One more way to determine the condition of a flash drought is to find how much water can be sucked out of the environment given the temperature-wind conditions of the atmosphere.

Such an index is called the Evaporative drought demand index. This information must be communicated effectively to concerned people so that a quick action plan can be developed.

In addition to this, resilience measures like integrated watershed management, rain water harvesting, etc. are required more than ever to tackle for these uncalled conditions. Afforestation in the catchment areas so that maximum amount of rainwater is absorbed by the means of leaf litter, penetrate deep into the soil through trees. Water holding capacity of soil can also be increased by using bio-manures like cow dung, mulching which retains a good amount of moisture for a long time or by practicing minimal tillage.

When the catastrophe is a hasty killer without any precise warning, only resilience measures are within human capacities. Therefore, conserving water from irregular, intensive storms is modus operandi in uncertain times.

Therefore, efforts must be made to conserve rainwater as much as possible by building tanks, increasing capacity of existing reservoirs and water holding bodies, desilting of canals so that more water can be stored for using the same during these flash droughts. Drought-resistant high yielding varieties of crops can be made available to farmers.

Moreover, community based solutions must be approached to deal with common, regional issues since flash droughts are more witnessed in isolated pockets. Therefore, India must focus more on regional problems which are caused by changes in climatic indicators so that the fragile hand-to-mouth economy is not disrupted.

Author:- Suramya Sharma

Flash Droughts in India

Category:- Geography / Environment

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