30% of India’s land area experiencing different degrees of drought, data shows

In August, India recorded a rainfall deficit of 36% 

By Shagun
Published: Monday 11 September 2023
Photo: iStock

Around 30 per cent land area in India was under different degrees of drought in the first week of September, 2023, worsening crop failure troubles for farmers and increasing food security concerns. At least 11.5 per cent area was under ‘severe’, ‘extreme’ and ‘exceptional’ dry conditions, while 18.9 per cent was under ‘abnormal’ to ‘moderate’ dry conditions, according to the data by Drought Early Warning System (DEWS). DEWS is India’s first real-time drought-monitoring platform run by IIT Gandhinagar’s Water and Climate Lab. 

August 2023 was the driest August since 1901 when record-keeping began. The country, which is currently in the El Nino year, received only about 162 millimetres of rainfall in the month, instead of the expected 255 mm — a deficiency of 36 per cent. 

This has increased troubles for farmers, who first delayed sowing in June and July because of low rainfall and now have to face crop failures and a decrease in crop output, especially as evapotranspiration rates increase in the heat. 

The Standardised Soil Moisture Index (SSI), which represents soil moisture drought, shows many districts facing extreme stress. Maximum districts lie in the states of Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Maharashtra and Karnataka. SSI is an indication of the water that is available to plants. 

Some of the worst affected districts experiencing soil moisture stress are Satara, Raigad, Nashik, and Kohlapur in Maharashtra, West Nimar in Madhya Pradesh, Balangir in Odisha, Korba and Raigarh in Chhattisgarh, Hazaribagh in Jharkhand, Chandauli and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, Murshidabad and Hugli in West Bengal, Udupi and Chikkamagaluru in Karnataka, Ernakulam and Thrissur in Kerala. 

Standardised soil moisture index (as on September 6, 2023)

Source: India Drought Monitor

The yellow to red colours on the map show the degree of deviations from the historic mean soil moisture. 

Important Kharif crops like cotton, moong, arhar, and urad in pulses, and groundnut and sunflower in oilseeds have shown a marked decrease in acreage compared to 2022. 

For instance, as on September 8, 2023, pulses have been sown in 119.91 lakh hectare (lha) area, which is 11.26 lha less than 2022. 

Meanwhile, the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI), which is used to show meteorological drought, based on rainfall data, also highlights a substantial increase in rainfall deficit in the northern, western and central parts of the country in the last one month. 

Standardised precipitation index (as on September 6, 2023)

Source: India Drought Monitor


Meanwhile, the overall drought condition has been worsening in the last three months. While 22.1 per cent land area was under drought in June, it increased to 24.4 per cent on August 7, 28.8 per cent on August 30 and 30.4 per cent on September 6. 

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