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Monsoon Floods Are A Fact Of Life In India

July 28, 2014
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By Paul Homewood






Paul alerts me to this story in the Toronto Star.


DEOLI-BENIGRAM, INDIA—There is no good time to ask someone to relive a catastrophic flood.

But a rainy day is the worst.

It is early morning and Deoli-Benigram, a charming village sprawled over an eastern Himalayan peak, is drenched. It has been raining since the previous evening — a persistent drizzle that shows no sign of stopping.

“Rain frightens me,” says Jyoti Semwal. The 27-year-old mother of two is sitting in her two-storey home; a picture window looks down into the valley but the steady rain and dense fog obscure the view.

She doesn’t want to talk about the June day last year when it started raining, triggering floods that carried away thousands of people, including 57 men from her village.

She doesn’t want to discuss that day, or how it changed her life.

But she does — mostly because she also has some questions. They are about climate change.


Unsurprisingly, the Star proceed to link the floods to climate change:


It is impossible, of course, to connect a specific event to global warming. However, extreme rainfall has become much more frequent, especially in South Asia: The 2005 deluge in Mumbai. The 2007 and 2009 cyclones in Bangladesh. The 2010 Pakistan floods.

While the West quibbles over a global deal to fight climate change — it will be signed in Paris in 2015 and take effect in 2020 — these two Himalayan villages are already facing the reality in their picturesque backyard.


As India’s Centre for Science & Environment points out in their long and detailed report, “Floods, Flood Plains and Environmental Myths”, the reality is somewhat different. Unfortunately these sort of events are only too common in the Himalayas.


The Himalayan mountains constitute an ecological system naturally primed for disaster. The deep gorges through which the Himalayan rivers flow convey the impression that the Himalayan valleys would never face floods. Yet these very channels often fail to contain the fury of disastrous floods. Among the most affected valleys are the laknanda and Bhagirathi valleys of the Garhwal Himalaya and the Teesta valley of the eastern Himalaya.
The Himalaya, the youngest mountain range in the world, is one of the most erosion-prone ranges. The brutal rainstorms which lash these mountains, together with some of the world’s worst earthquakes give the Himalaya an ecological setting extremely susceptible to natural disasters and floods. For instance:

  • The deep gorges of Himalayan rivers seem sufficient to transport excess rainwater. Surprisingly, this is not true. Floods have been taking place in the Himalayan mountains since time immemorial.
  • Landslides often block Himalayan rivers. When these landslide dams burst, they cause a flood pulse which triggers off more landslides.
  • In 1893, a landslide blocked the Birahiganga in the Uttar Pradesh Himalaya to form a 350 m-high dam creating the vast Gohana Tal. When a part of the dam toppled 10 months later, the level of the Alaknanda rose by 50 m and washed away the town of Srinagar.
  • During a normal year, some 0.5 mm to five mm of soil depth gets washed away in the Darjeeling Himalaya. During a year of catastrophic floods, such as in 1968, some 20 mm deep soil can get eroded. Hardly any mountain range in the world experiences such high erosion rates.
  • Cyclonic storms in Darjeeling and Sikkim can bring 310 mm to 1,800 mm of rainfall in a day. Cloudbursts exceeding 1,000 mm a day can trigger massive landslides in practically any geological circumstance.
  • The Teesta flowing through the Sikkim and Darjeeling mountains is possibly the wildest river in the Himalaya. After the destructive floods of 1987, the Teesta, which used to flow into the Ganga changed course and started flowing into the Brahmaputra.



Last year’s floods occurred in the Garwhal Himalaya, about which the CSE study reports:






 Local reports gave rainfall amounts of 313mm over the three days at the Uttarakhand State capital of Dehradun. While localised amounts may have been higher, they certainly won’t have been “unprecedented”. Tragically, the death toll was many times higher because it coincided with the annual pilgrimage to holy sites. Many thousands of pilgrims were trapped by the flood waters.



Meanwhile, it should be remembered just how important a bountiful monsoon is to India’s farm output and economy generally. As the Hindustan Times reported in 2012:



Rice: Farmers sow paddy at the start of the monsoon in June and the key areas are in the east and south. The crop is heavily dependent on rains for irrigation.

A bumper harvest last year led the government to lift a four year ban on exports and rainfall within the average will erase any chance of a return of the export ban for the world’s second largest producer of the grain after China.

An average monsoon will help the world’s top sugar producer after Brazil to keep its free export policy on sugar in the new season from October 1.

Corn, lentils, oilseeds and cotton — important crops in western and central India — have some dependency on the seasonal rains. India remains a net importer of lentils and cooking oils and domestic output can alter overseas purchases. An average rainfall could allow the world’s second biggest producer of cotton continue with its free policy on overseas sale.


Economy and markets

* The monsoon rains are vital for farm output and economic growth in India, the world’s second-biggest producer of rice, wheat, sugar and cotton. Farm sector shares for about 15% of India’s nearly $2 trillion economy, Asia’s third biggest.

* India is largely self-sufficient in major foodgrains such as rice and wheat, but drought can send the country to global markets. In 2009, India had to import sugar, sending global prices to record highs and pushing up inflation.

* Higher farm output would rein in food prices and help the government to take steps to cut the fiscal deficit and farm subsidies. India’s food inflation rose to 10.66% in May from 10.18% in April, latest figures show.

* A stronger economic outlook can lift sentiment in equity markets, mainly of companies selling products in rural areas, including consumer goods and automobiles.

* Monsoon rains impact demand for gold in India, the world’s top consumer of the metal, as purchases get a boost when farming incomes rise amid high crop output.


Irrigation, power

* Monsoon rains replenish reservoirs and lift ground-water levels, allowing better irrigation and more hydropower output.

* Higher rainfall can cut demand for subsidised diesel, which is used to pump water from wells for irrigation and makes up for about 40% of India’s oil products demand.



And the Times of India had this to say last year:


At the halfway mark, the monsoon shows no signs of flagging and, on current projections, is set to cross 100% of its long period average, promising to relieve a stressed economy and ease the Manmohan Singh government’s political burden.
A bountiful monsoon is likely to benefit the kharif crop despite some hiccups in east India and the government is anticipating record rice production with the area under sowing touching 196 lakh hectares, a 16 lakh hectare increase over last year.
Since 1901, there have been 59 years when the monsoon has crossed 100% of the LPA. Since 2000, there have been only four years when monsoon crossed the 100% mark. These are 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2011.

Plentiful, well distributed rains will not just add bounce to the economy, but can enhance a sense of well-being despite the urban chaos associated with the monsoon. On balance, the spectre of drought and added financial commitments is far less appealing.


"The excellent rainfall, especially in central India which has recorded 46% more than normal rain, has been due to regular formations of low pressure systems over northwest Bay of Bengal which have moved in a westerly direction across central India," said Dr O P Singh, deputy director general, Delhi Regional Meteorological Centre.


Monsoons are a fact of life in India, and unfortunately they often wreak havoc. But as Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawa told journalists in 2010, after that year’s floods in Pakistan,

“The good southwest monsoon will be favourable to the wheat crop next year. The reservoirs are full; the storage in the Bhakra dam, for instance, has not been like this in the past 30 years. Our expectation is that 2010-11 will be a bumper crop year.”



Perhaps before the Toronto Star attempted to make political capital out of a disaster, they should have checked the facts with the Indians themselves.

  1. mkelly permalink
    July 28, 2014 6:36 pm

    “…they should have checked the facts…”

    See there is your problem. Wanting journalist to check facts. Tsk, Tsk.

  2. Paul permalink
    July 28, 2014 9:19 pm

    It doesn’t end there Paul. The next time you hear a pop star or Hollywood luvvie demanding that you give some of your hard earned to help the starving (while they save the tax they owe by setting up companies abroad, don’t you know) in Africa because of droughts caused by climate chaos think about the history of drought in that region.
    Go here and click on the “download this paper” icon on the bottom right.

    Originally this was on this website: but was taken down to be replaced by all things eco-loon. I contacted the webmaster about the disappearance of the paper and ended up arguing about the take down but that’s another story.

    Note that the paper was written in 1997.
    If you have a problem downloading it (pdf but sometimes it asks you to register though not always) I can send you the file.

    An eye opener.

  3. July 28, 2014 9:23 pm

    Reblogged this on the WeatherAction Blog.

  4. John F. Hultquist permalink
    July 28, 2014 10:55 pm

    Where I live we get under 10 inches (~25 cm) of precipitation per year. Guess where they get 12 m. per year? In 47 years we might accumulate 12 m. Anyway, such world records have been reported in text books for about as long as there have been text books.

  5. Joe Public permalink
    July 29, 2014 7:59 am

    Would ‘Paul’ the frequent contributor at this blog, add an initial (or even a ‘2’) after his 1st name, to enable other readers to more-easily differentiate him from ‘Paul’ the owner of this blog, please?

  6. Paul2 permalink
    July 29, 2014 9:00 am


    • Joe Public permalink
      July 29, 2014 9:13 am


    • Otter (ClimateOtter on Twitter) permalink
      July 29, 2014 9:17 am

      So is that ‘Paul Squared’ Or ‘Paul x 2″? 😉

  7. Bloke down the pub permalink
    July 29, 2014 10:19 am

    ‘ It has been raining since the previous evening — a persistent drizzle that shows no sign of stopping.’
    Oh Noes, not the drizzle! It makes it sound like Monty Python.

  8. Ben Vorlich permalink
    July 29, 2014 10:57 am

    I watched BBC4’s Wild Weather presented by Donal MacIntyre, starting at the North Pole or thereabouts and heading south . It was quite interesting and surprisingly free from hype, no drowning polar bears, no ice free Arctic by 20nn. I thought this is a bit odd for the BBC, but then right at the end the sop to the AGW police was thrown in. I sounded just like it had to be added or he wouldn’t be allowed to make any more programmes on climate/weather.

    I have nothing but admiration for the Danish researchers on Greenland with whom MacIntyre sent a day and a night.


  1. BBC, Indian Monsoon, And More Lies | The Global Warming Policy Forum (GWPF)

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