India has suffered its worst drought since 1972, the official weather office said on Wednesday, with rains 23 percent below average at the end of the country's four-month monsoon season.
"India's 2009 monsoon rainfall has been the worst since 1972," a spokesperson for the Meteorological Department, P.K. Bandhopadhyay, told AFP.
In 1972, monsoon rainfall was 24 percent below average, he said, while other bad years such as 2002, 1987 and 1979 had a 19-percent shortfall.
"Officially, the four-month monsoon season is over," he said. "This year India has received a very bad monsoon."
The impact of the drought varies according to region, with the southern peninsula recording minus seven percent while the northwest reported a deficit of 36 percent.
For India's 235 million farmers, a bad monsoon can spell financial disaster because of a lack of irrigation in rural areas.
Low rains have already ravaged India's rice, cane sugar and groundnut crops, and have disrupted the flow of water into the main reservoirs that are vital for hydropower generation and winter irrigation.
Food prices for basics such as sugar have shot up in the country as a result of the lower farm yields and the rain shortage is also expected to hit India's economic growth this year.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said last month the country faced a severe drought, but that ample food stocks would be enough to ensure no one went hungry.
Commodity experts say India's current food stocks are enough to feed the poor who would be eligible for state support for three months.
The weather office officially called an end to the rainy season on Wednesday.