More than 50 people have been killed and almost half a million displaced following heavy monsoon rains in the south and north east of India. The north eastern region of Assam has been worst hit, with 13 of its 27 districts affected by the flooding, as rivers such as the Brahmaputra burst their banks. Troops from the country’s National Disaster Response Force have been using boats to take stranded villagers to safer areas. Around 700 government relief camps have been set up to house over 400,000 people in the region and distribute aid and medical supplies.
India’s monsoon rains take place from June to September, but there is normally a dry spell between the first downpours (the pre-monsoon) and the later ones (main monsoon). This is when farmers normally harvest their rice crops. But this year, the rains have been continual, with the pre-monsoon showers 80% higher than normal and it is estimated villagers could have lost between 60- 80 per cent of their crops. Aid workers are therefore warning that a careful assessment will need to made of the damage to harvests and the help required for impoverished communities to rebuild their livelihoods.
With more rain ahead, the situation over the coming months is unpredictable.
Last year, nearly 1000 people were killed by flooding in India and vast swathes of farmland flooded. The effect of the rains has become more devastating over recent decades because of mass deforestation in the mountainous areas. This has led to the erosion of soil and the accumulation of sediment into the river beds, raising water levels. Poor construction and maintenance of dams and water defences has also exacerbated the problem, allowing large volumes of water to breach river banks with little warning. Improved water management will become an increasingly vital component in India’s development. Agriculture in India currently accounts for almost 90% of the country’s water usage (compared to only 3% in Britain and 41% in the United States) and rainfall in India is extremely unevenly distributed, with the north-east receiving 110 times more rain than the western desert.
Despite the damage inflicted by the monsoon rain in certain regions, the country relies on this seasonal rainfall. Well-managed water projects, such as in the semi-arid Gujarat region, have helped demonstrate how the capturing of monsoon rainfall in aquifers and over 500,000 small ponds and dams, has led to a growth in agriculture of nearly 10% per year. Projects like these demonstrate that with careful management, India’s monsoon rains can be harnessed for maintaining the growing population and economy.