Visualising India’s record-breaking rainfall
FOR CENTURIES the arrival of the monsoon in India has been a time for rejoicing. The annual rains, which make landfall in the southern state of Kerala in June before spreading across the subcontinent, bring respite from a scorching summer and provide nourishment to parched farmlands. In recent years, though, delight has been replaced by dread as the monsoons have brought death and destruction. This year record-breaking rains have battered swathes of northern India (see chart). Floods and landslides have washed away houses, roads and acres of farmland. At least 100 people have died so far, but hundreds more are in perilmany of them stranded in Himalayan tourist spots. There have also been 86 deaths reported in neighbouring Pakistan, though the flooding there is less severeand far less serious than the monsoon floods of last year which led to emergency conditions in a third of the country. In Delhi a deluge on July 9th was the worst in the past 41 years, bringing the capital to a standstill. Schools have been closed. Across north-west India, the level of rainfall this monsoon has been about 60% greater than the typical season. In the states of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, there has been around double the amount. The Indian Meteorological Department expects downpours to continue over the next few days. Meteorologists blame the anomalies on the interaction of the monsoon with a western disturbance, a rare extratropical storm originating in the Mediterranean that moved east. A similar interaction in 2013 caused floods that killed nearly 5,000 people in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand. Indias monsoons are known for such vagaries but climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme events. For instance, scientists believe that western disturbances, which typically occur in the winter, are happening earlier because of global warming. More generally, as the atmospheres temperature rises, so does its capacity to bear moisture. That means climate change will probably contribute to heavier monsoons. According to a study published in 2021, for every degree Celsius of global warming, the Indian subcontinent can expect an additional 5.3% of precipitation during the monsoon. The other factor making monsoons worse is poor adaptation. Even a short shower incapacitates most Indian cities. Bangalore, Indias tech capital, is regularly inundated even with relatively mild downpours. In Delhi the rains have swollen the Yamuna, the river dissecting the capital, and its water has submerged underpasses. New construction hasnt helped. Much of it has been built atop low-lying zones that are prone to flooding. Rural areas are hardly better off. Deforestation, especially in the mountains, is removing an important natural barrier to floods and landslides. According to the World Resources Institute, a think-tank, around 34m Indians will be at risk of riverine flooding by 2030, up from 12m in 2010. Over the years, Indian policymakers have sought to increase resilience. More resources have flowed into flood prevention. City governments, for instance, have invested in flood-warning systems and drainage networks. But for now, these efforts are falling short. In every monsoon since 2013, some part of India has experienced a large-scale flood, and, inevitably, a tragedy.