August 17, 2012 – Two Indian States Declare Drought Emergencies: India’s shortage of monsoon rainfall was brought into focus Thursday, with two states formally declaring rain-deprived areas to be in drought and with Parliament likely to take additional steps to mitigate the impact of the rain deficiency on the broader economy. Pictured above, a boy walks on the parched land which was once a pond in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, India.
Junior Farm Minister Harish Rawat said Thursday that the northwestern state of Rajasthan and the southern state of Karnataka have declared drought in some areas of their respective states and are seeking relief from the federal government. A government team is assessing conditions in the areas, and any further measures can be taken only after parliamentary debate Thursday, he told reporters.
Rainfall across the country has been 15% below the long-term average so far this monsoon season, which started June 1. The seasonal rainfall is critical to agriculture in India, where more than 60% of the farmland is rain-fed, with around 600 million people working directly in the sector.
Meanwhile, reduced harvests could prompt soaring food prices that could propel inflation back into double digits after a period of relatively moderate consumer-price-index growth. Inflation fell to the slowest rate in nearly three years in July, raising hopes for interest rate cuts to spur the economy, but at nearly 7%, it is hardly under control.
If the government increases its subsidy burden to take the sting off the country’s agricultural sector, it will likely widen an already ballooning fiscal deficit and make the prospect of providing economic stimulus in other areas more challenging. Pictured above, India’s national bird – the Peacock – is threatened by the national drought.
In recent weeks the government has provided a diesel-price subsidy to farmers, increased the subsidy for seeds and removed an import tax on oil meals.
Mr. Rawat said a shortage of rainfall has also affected the cultivation of summer-sown crops in other parts of the country.
The northern states of Punjab and Haryana as well as parts of the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat haven’t declared drought yet, but are facing very dry conditions, he said.
But he added that, overall, crops will likely fare better this year than during the country’s last drought, in 2009, the worst drought the country suffered in nearly four decades.
He said the total area affected by drought is slightly smaller than in 2009, when the government banned exports of most food grains due to drastically reduced output.
Coarse cereals, including corn, have been hit hardest by poor rainfall, he said.
“We have already launched a contingency plan in 320 districts to cope with the rainfall situation,” he said. Among other initiatives the government has been providing drinking water where there are supply shortages, distributing seeds to replace wilted crops and providing feed grains for cattle. (Credits: Picture – The European Pressphoto Agency, Narrative – The Wall Street Journal).
The Master of Disaster