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Severe droughts and floods to hit Indo-Gangetic plain, warn Indian, Chinese researchers

The Indo-Gangetic Plain, which accounts for 50% of India’s agricultural output, could face severe droughts and extreme floods if the burning of fossil fuels continues unabated, according to a new study.

world Updated: Mar 30, 2017 21:45 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
File photo of a farmer in his dried up cotton field in Nalgonda east of Hyderabad in April 2016.
File photo of a farmer in his dried up cotton field in Nalgonda east of Hyderabad in April 2016. (AFP)

The Indo-Gangetic plain, India’s most populous and fertile region, will face extreme climatic conditions such as severe droughts if the burning of fossil fuel continues unabated and government policies fail to intervene, a group of Indian and Chinese researchers has warned.

The droughts, a possible result of the reckless burning of fossil fuels combined with regional warming, will lead to a fall in agricultural produce, compromising India’s food security, the researchers projected.

That wasn’t the only conclusion - because of dependency on the intensity of monsoon and the variability of government intervention, “extreme wet events” or floods will be a probability too.

A two-year study was conducted by researchers attached to the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in Beijing, the Beijing Normal University and the University of Cambridge. The group comprised two Indians, five Chinese and one German.

“Dissecting the projected change led to the conclusion that not only will incidences of climatological and extreme drought increase dramatically in the future, but extreme wet events will also become more probable due to increased variability, indicating that extreme events, including droughts and floods, will become more common in the Indo-Gangetic Plain,” said Debashis Nath, one of the Indian reseachers.

The study, published in the scientific journal Earth’s Future in March, analysed climate data from the region between 1961 and 2012 and juxtaposed it against two scenarios till the end of this century. The first scenario was one where government and global policies led to increased irrigation and cut down the emission of greenhouse gases and the second whereby authorities failed to take those same steps and the region became vulnerable to climatic changes.

The situation is complicated by the fact that agriculture in India is mostly rain-fed.

The existing data analysed by the group was worrying in itself.

“We found that in the Indo-Gangetic Plain region, the probability of drought is 45% and the region has become drought-prone in recent decades. Cereal production has declined from the year 2000, which is consistent with the increase in drought-affected areas from 20% to 25% to 50% to 60% before and after 2000,” explained Reshmita Nath, one of the researchers attached to CAS.

The other Indian researcher, Debashis Nath, is also affiliated to CAS.

The team projected existing data on 27 different climate models followed by scientists across the world to look for future trends – and the result was consistent and grim.

“We found that the area affected due to drought events will be higher during the global warming scenario and the frequency of extreme drought events will increase dramatically in the future,” Nath said.

The researchers detailed several droughts and floods that have hit the region since 2000, which caused “considerable losses including death, crop failure and eco-system destruction”.

This study, they said in the published paper, should help the government to plan for “agricultural adaptation strategies, advanced water management, and (protecting) human health” in future.

What did the study cover?

The region studied included Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, West Bengal and .parts of Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.

This region is home to approximately 40% of India’s population and yields approximately 50% of the country’s total agricultural production.

The climate and agricultural data were sourced from the National Sample Survey Office and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN

The paper was published under the headline “Multimodel Projections of Extreme Weather Events in the Humid Subtropical Gangetic Plain Region of India”.