Late monsoon leads to drought in India
The rainy season in India arrived late and delivered far less precipitation than usual in summer 2012, leading to severe drought across large parts of the country. More than 50 percent of the labor force in India—the world’s second most populous country—makes a living in agriculture. Compare that to the United States, where the figure is less than 1 percent, and you can start to imagine the widespread hardship that a drought can cause.
India’s rainy season (the rainy phase of the Asian monsoon) generally starts around June 1 at the southern tip of the country, and the rain clouds migrate north-northwest over subsequent weeks. When the rains failed to appear in June, the impact on vegetation was severe. Rain-watered crops failed to germinate, and forage for livestock withered.
The maps above show satellite-based estimates of the change in drought status after the first month’s failed rains (left) and again two weeks later (right), as the monsoon continued to be delayed. The colors represent changes in a drought scale that takes into account satellite observations of the relative "greenness" of vegetation on the ground plus moisture conditions and temperatures. Drought conditions were widespread across India by the end of June, and western areas deteriorated further through mid-July.
Rains finally arrived in August, and vegetation conditions showed some improvement (maps below). Rainfall in August (left) was heavier in the eastern part of the country and across Bangladesh (blue colors), with amounts tapering off in the west and north. Despite the heavier rainfall amounts in the east, it was the western part of the country—where drought conditions were more severe in preceding months—that witnessed the most improvement (green colors on right-hand map) according to the satellite observations.
As with drought across the United States, however, timing can be everything, and the August rains will in many cases be too late to prevent some crop and cattle losses. Despite the increased rainfall since late August, large precipitation deficits for the season continue in western India. For example, as of mid-September, Gujarat and Punjab had seasonal rainfall deficits of around 10 and 8 inches, respectively. The monsoon typically withdraws from western India during the latter half of September, and rainfall begins to decline.
Central Intelligence Agency. (2012). India: CIA World Factbook. Accessed September 16, 2012.