Currently, nearly 50% of India faces drought: IIT Gandhinagar scientists

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According to Associate Professor Vimal Mishra, continued drought will further burden the country’s already depleting groundwater resources

According to IIT Gandhinagar scientists managing India’s real-time drought prediction system, nearly 50% of the country is currently facing drought with at least 16% falling in the “exceptional” or “extreme” category.

This ongoing drought will pose many water availability challenges this summer, Vimal Mishra, Associate Professor at Gandhinagar’s Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), told PTI.

The real – time monitoring system which is run by his team, which includes Ph.D. student Amardeep Tiwari, collects Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) weather and precipitation data, which is then used to simulate soil moisture and other factors that contribute to drought.

The simulation results, prepared by IIT Gandhinagar’s Water and Climate Lab, are available on the IMD website.

“About 47% of the country is facing drought — with 16% facing extreme, or exceptional category of drought — which we show from our real time monitoring system that we have developed for the country,” said Mr. Mishra, who heads the laboratory.

Adding further, he said “Arunachal Pradesh did not get good rain this year, and parts of Jharkhand, southern Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, and northern part of Tamil Nadu are under drought”.

He warned that if these areas experience very hot summer before monsoon starts, it could lead to a crisis.

Continuing drought, he believes, will further burden the country’s already depleting groundwater resources.

He said, “We are not enhancing groundwater recharge. On the other hand, drought conditions are making us extract more and more water”.

Although conditions like famine are not expected, the drought will have a massive economic impact.

Mr. Mishra said, “It can create long-term stress, if not mortality for poor, marginalised farmers”.

The scientist said that global warming and climate change in the coming years are likely to exacerbate drought.

Difficult road ahead

“If our groundwater is not recharged and managed sustainably, we could face a very difficult situation in the coming years,” Mr. Mishra said, adding that groundwater is currently being used irresponsibly.

He said, “You can reduce groundwater by selecting appropriate crops. If we already have depleted groundwater we should not grow water-intensive crops. For example, Punjab should not be growing rice”.

Also adding, “The government needs to take some tough decisions as far as groundwater, and water conservation is concerned”.

Water conservation in urban homes is only a drop in the bucket compared to steps that can be taken in the agricultural sector, he said.

“Of course, conservation should be encouraged at every level, but the elephant in the room is agriculture. 80% of our total fresh water is used in agriculture sites, rather than residential sites,” he said.

He also emphasized the need for better equipment to deal with a drought situation,

“The government thinks drought is a reactive situation, that they will provide a relief only once there is a crisis But with the data available they can take proactive measures to prevent a water crisis,” Mr. Mishra said.

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