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Saturday, April 13, 2024

India heading for its driest monsoon in 8 years

India is poised to experience its lowest monsoon rainfall in eight years due to the El Niño weather pattern. This follows an August that is projected to be the driest in over a century, as stated by two officials from the weather department who spoke to Reuters on Monday.

The monsoon, crucial for India’s $3 trillion economy, supplies around 70% of the required rainfall for crop irrigation and reservoir replenishment. With almost half of the country’s farmland lacking irrigation, the shortfall in summer rainfall could lead to higher prices for essential commodities like sugar, pulses, rice, and vegetables, contributing to overall food inflation, which reached its highest point since January 2020 in July.

This decrease in production might also lead India, a significant global producer of rice, wheat, and sugar, to impose further restrictions on the export of these commodities.

A senior official from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) noted, “El Niño led to reduced rainfall in August, and it will also negatively impact rainfall in September.” The official preferred anonymity as they were not authorized to communicate with the media.

The projected outcome is that India will end the June-September monsoon season with a rainfall deficit of at least 8%, the largest since 2015 when El Niño similarly affected precipitation, according to the same official.

The weather department has not yet responded to requests for comments. The Indian weather authorities are expected to release their September forecast on August 31.

In its previous full-season forecast on May 26, the IMD had anticipated a 4% rainfall deficit for the season, assuming a limited impact from the El Niño pattern. El Niño is associated with warming Pacific waters and generally leads to drier conditions in the Indian subcontinent.

This year’s monsoon has been uneven, with June witnessing rains 9% below average, but July experiencing a rebound with rains 13% above average. This erratic distribution has prompted India, a top rice exporter globally, to restrict rice shipments, impose a 40% duty on onion exports, allow duty-free pulse imports, and potentially consider banning sugar exports.

The southwest monsoon is projected to withdraw from northwestern India by September 17, which is either on schedule or slightly ahead of the normal date, according to another IMD official. The past four Septembers have seen above-average rains due to delayed monsoon withdrawal.

While northern and eastern states might experience below-normal rainfall, a revival in southern peninsula rainfall is possible, the second official mentioned. September rainfall is crucial for winter-sown crops such as wheat, rapeseed, and chickpeas.

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