KUMBHARWADI – Like all of India’s tens of millions of smallholder farmers who depend on the annual monsoons for their livelihoods, Bhagwat Gagre keeps a close eye on the skies.
In his village, in the shadow of the Western Ghats, the rainy season usually begins in June. As it had been for thousands of years, winds blew backwards across the subcontinent, carrying water-ripened clouds from the Arabian Sea over the Ghats, bathing the small farm of Ghagre at Kumbhalwadi, and his to ensure that the crops planted by his wife receive the rain they need.
But now, across South Asia, climate change is making monsoons more erratic, less reliable and even dangerous. Precipitation is intensifying and the dry season is getting worse. For a region home to nearly a quarter of the world’s population, the results are disastrous.
Dryness was a problem on Gagre’s farm in late August. The monsoon was no longer felt. “If it doesn’t rain in the next 15 days or 20 for him, his productivity will drop by 50%.”
Elsewhere in South Asia, the problem was raining too much and too fast. Pakistan, northwest of India, was hit by relentless torrential rains that submerged much of the country and killed at least 1,500 of her people. In India’s tech capital Bengaluru, devastating rains in early September forced workers to use boats instead of cars on the streets.
Scientists blame the change in monsoons on global warming from burning fossil fuels. Computer models suggest that as this warming continues, monsoons will intensify and rainfall will increase overall.
But scientists also see what farmers like Gagre are experiencing. That’s the bigger uncertainty.
“Heavy rainfall is increasing rapidly,” said Dr. Roxy Matthew Cole, climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.
Monsoon seasons are defined by patterns. It begins on the west coast of India, where headwinds blow in the spring and push humid air out of the Arabian Sea towards the land. Then, eastwards from the Bay of Bengal, winds begin to carry more rain across the subcontinent.
From July to August the rains begin to move northwards. In September the monsoon retreats another year.
But monsoons are more than just rain. It’s a collective mood, a shared experience across communities and time, and it’s deeply ingrained. Artists and poets have tried to capture it for centuries. The novelist uses it as his plot device, providing a romantic interlude like rain in countless Bollywood movies. Monsoons are also an economic force, especially important for small farmers who get more than three-quarters of their annual rainfall from monsoons.
A good monsoon brings many things. Bad monsoon, hardship. And in the past, severe monsoons have caused famine.
Monsoons are destabilizing thanks to basic science. Warm air holds more moisture. Humidity can build up in the atmosphere and stay there longer, prolonging the dry season. But then when it rains, “it releases all the moisture in a very short time,” says Dr. Koll. “It can be a month or a week of rain in a few hours to a few days.”
Gagre is a farmer in arid regions. He lives in the shadow of the Ghats, which means the monsoons bring less rain. The mountains squeeze most of the moisture out of the clouds before it rains on his farm. For him, a longer dry season is a big threat.
To combat this, the villagers hand-dug a long, winding ditch along the hillside. This allowed it to better catch the falling rain, keep it from flowing into streams, and give it time to soak in the ground. This helped prevent the local wells from drying up after the monsoon ended.
And what if the trenches and other water conservation efforts didn’t work? “Nobody would live here today,” Gagre said.new york times
https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/monsoon-in-south-asia-is-becoming-more-extreme South Asian monsoons are getting extreme