India will find it hard to weather a bad monsoon
The summer of 2019 could be a difficult one for India. Monsoon rainfall and summer temperatures may be affected by El Niño, a weather phenomenon characterised by warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean that is sometimes associated with drought in the subcontinent, M Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences told Hindustan Times last week. Last month, the World Meteorological Organisation said “there is a 50-60% chance of El Niño developing by May 2019, although it is not expected to be a strong event. But if this unpredictable climate phenomenon gains strength, it is likely to sap the monsoon system and lead to episodes of heat waves.
A weaker monsoon will have grave consequences for India’s economy, with agriculture facing the full impact because it is mostly dependant on rains for irrigation. A bad monsoon will also further burden the already depleted ground water resources of the country, and will also have a long-term effect on not just farming but also drinking water availability. According to a study released by IIT-Gandhinagar in February, nearly 50% of the country is already facing drought with at least 16% falling in the “exceptional” or “extreme” category.
In the last three years, the country has faced two major economic disruptions: demonetisation (2016); and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (2017). Demonetisation was preceded by two years of drought, and the lingering effects of both demonetisation and the implementation of the GST were felt in 2018. The drought crippled the farming community, leading to a spate of protests, and is one of the key issues in this election. These protests, economists such as Himanshu, Associate Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University’s Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, have argued, are also the expression of “accumulated distress borne out in the exponential rise in price of farm inputs and the collapse in prices of farm output”. This dangerous trend is also accentuated by a decline in government spending on agriculture, leaving the farmer to fend for himself. A bad monsoon in 2019, along with these existing policy challenges, will be yet another shock for the system, and will certainly keep the new government at the Centre busy from day one.