Sunita Narain: How the monsoon has changed

Business Standard

Sunita Narain | New Delhi September 7, 2014

Every year, like clockwork, India is caught between the spectre of months of crippling water shortages and drought and months of devastating floods. In 2014, there has been no respite from this annual cycle. But something new and strange is indeed afoot. Each year, the floods are growing in intensity. Each year, the rain events get more variable and more extreme. Each year, economic damages increase – and once again, development gains are lost in one season of flood or bad drought.

Scientists now say conclusively that there is a difference between weather and its natural variability and climate change, a pattern brought about by human emissions that is heating up the atmosphere faster than normal. Scientists who study the monsoons tell us that they are beginning to make that distinction between “normal” monsoons and what is now showing up in terms of abnormal extreme rain events. This, remember, when the monsoons are an extremely capricious and confounding natural event, hard to predict and even harder to pin down. But, even then, scientists can find the change.

All this is further complicated by the fact that multiple factors affect the weather and another set of multiple factors affects its severity and impact. In other words, the causes of devastation following extreme events – like droughts or floods – are often complicated, and involve mismanagement of resources and poor planning.

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