El Nino chances rise, India sets up contingency plans | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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El Nino chances rise, India sets up contingency plans

By, Jayashree Nandi, New Delhi
Apr 15, 2023 06:52 AM IST

There is a nearly 70% probability of an El Nino developing this monsoon, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

There is a nearly 70% probability of an El Nino developing this monsoon, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has said, strengthening concerns that the weather phenomenon could threaten agriculture, consumption and an economy still reckoned to be the world’s fastest growing and better placed to weather global headwinds than most emerging markets.

The maximum temperature in Delhi hit a season-high of 39.4°C on Friday. (ANI)
The maximum temperature in Delhi hit a season-high of 39.4°C on Friday. (ANI)

IMD’s renewed assessment — on April 11, it had pegged the probability at 50% — came even as the government moved to take additional steps to protect farmers, especially by setting up a system to for specific advisory services and forecasts for each of India’s 700-odd districts based on different rainfall scenarios.

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Also Read | Minister reviews water situation in Pune in view of El Nino forecast

The monsoon-disrupting weather pattern, triggered by a warming of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean, causes climate chaos across the globe and, often, drought in India.

The IMD on Friday said there is a 70% probability of El Nino in the June, July, August season and the probability rises to 80% in July, August and September season.

With an El Nino (little boy in Spanish) almost certain to arise, the Union ministry of agriculture and IMD have been holding monthly meetings to prepare region-specific mitigation plans, a senior official said, requesting anonymity.

The monsoon is the lifeblood of the world’s fifth-largest economy. Nearly half of the country’s net-sown area lacks irrigation access, making the rain-bearing system vital. It also replenishes 91 natural reservoirs that feed power generation, factories and drinking supply.

Also Read | Climate crisis: El Nino may cause spike in temperatures, says WMO

“State governments are being provided with customised forecasts to prepare in advance,” an IMD official said. This year, IMD will provide agro-meteorological advisory services and forecasts for each of India’s 700-odd districts based on different rainfall scenarios, which will be disseminated through Krishi Vigyan Kendras, a network of federally-run farm centres, this person added.

Between 2001 and 2020, India saw seven El Nino years. Of these, four resulted in droughts (2003, 2005, 2009-10, 2015-16). These years also saw kharif or summer-sown farm output decline by 16%, 8%, 10% and 3%, stoking inflation. Kharif harvests account for nearly half of the country’s annual food supply.

“Most likely it will be a mild to moderate intensity El Nino,” said D Sivananda Pai, director of the state-run Institute of Climate Change Studies, Kottayam, Kerala.

The 2023 El Nino is expected to develop following a triple dip La Nina event (2020-22). La Nina is the opposite of El Nino and is characterised by cooler currents in the equatorial eastern Pacific.

“We had expected that the situation may change a little in April. The dynamical model must have factored these circumstances. If the statistical model didn’t factor these, we have to see what changes are shown by May end and announce that in our update,” said M Ravichandran, secretary, ministry of earth sciences.

On Thursday, US government forecasters increased the chances of an El Nino to 74% from 61% a month ago.

In 1997, India faced the strongest El Nino ever, but the monsoon was normal, said Pai, who was formerly the IMD’s main monsoon forecaster. “But the thing is, after four years of normal monsoon, it is difficult to get a normal year again. We need to be prepared.”

The country is counting on another weather phenomenon, a currently positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), which tends to boost the rains and thwart an El Nino. IOD is the temperature difference between two spots (western and eastern) in the Indian Ocean.

Droughts are no longer the disaster they used to be, thanks to a significant leap in farm productivity. In 2009, when the country had its worst drought in three decades, the nation managed to produce a million more tonnes of foodgrains than it did in 2007, a normal monsoon year.

The country’s food output has risen sharply — from about 50 million tonnes in 1950-51 to 323.5 million tonnes during 2022-23 — helping avoid a scary “Malthusian world” of food production not keeping pace with population growth.

Yet, a drought still drives up inflation, erodes farm incomes and hurts the overall economy.

“Over 2023-24, inflation is expected to range tightly between 5.0 and 5.6% if India survives an El Nino event adversely affecting the south west monsoon, given global uncertainties,” the Reserve Bank of India said in its most recent bulletin.

Patchy rains hit the economy in indirect ways. Poor harvests reduce spending on consumer goods. Rural buyers, for instance, account for nearly half of annual two-wheeler and television sales, according to industry data. Currently, muted consumer demand is a key factor holding the economy back.

“Consumer companies with higher rural salience witness muted growth during these (El Nino) events,” said Sumant Kumar of Motilal Oswal Investment Services.

According to Pai, IMD’s forecast of a normal monsoon at 96% (of 50-year average rainfall) is on the lowest of the lower side. Monsoon is considered normal if it is between 96-104%. A slippage of one percentage point will mean a below-normal monsoon.

During 2022-23, aggregate supply (total availability of goods and services) measured by gross value added, a measure of income, grew 6.6% driven by “services and agriculture sectors, while the industrial sector decelerated amid intensification of input cost pressures” RBI said in its March bulletin.

This means the farm sector remains vital to growth and any adverse impact on it will ripple across the economy, said Abhishek Agrawal of Comtrade, a commodity trading firm.

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