India experienced severe heatwaves that broke several records this year. And these heatwaves were harsh, and we were largely underprepared.
Pan-India warnings were released and advisories were given out. What made things even worse is power shortages and no electricity supply in several cities across the country.
But why were March and April so unusually hot this year and what led to these heatwaves, is what we explained in our last video.
Brief revision-- a heatwave is supposed to be broken by a spell of rain. Usually, we see pre-monsoon showers in early summers which this year has been late which became a primary reason for such extreme heatwaves.
But why is rainfall all over the place? Well, like most of my answers, it is climate change.
Pre-monsoon showers are delayed, in most parts, even July and August are dry, in small pockets, the rainfall is higher than ever and there are floods, and there are unexpected spells of heavy rains in November and December.
And while to us, it doesn’t make much difference because it mostly impacts our traffic jams to work, our vacation plans and our pakoda appetite; it makes a huge difference to the farmer whose entire produce, livelihood and sustenance depend on rainfall.
Rainfall and India's Farmers
India is largely an agrarian economy. More than half of our population is engaged in agriculture. This means either you are or you come from a farm family, or someone in your family is a farmer, or someone you know definitely is.
And if someone asks me, farmers are any day better climate experts and have been for years, with their ears and hearts to the ground, looking up in the sky and knowing how the clouds will function.
Farmers might not talk in the words that scientists do but they are acutely aware of how climate change is altering their realities.
A farmer once told me during a reporting trip in a village in Uttar Pradesh:
“Earlier the rainfall would be more gentle, regular and evenly spread out over the months. Now it rains fiercely for a few days, and then it goes dry. this actually does more harm to the crop.”
Rainfall is Now More Unseasonal and Erratic
Rainfall in the Indian subcontinent has lately been fierce and intense for a few days, causing floods, giving us the impression that maybe it rains a lot more now than it did earlier.
But in reality, the monsoon rainfall has decreased almost by 1% on an average every decade for the last six decades.
Rainfall is now far more uneven than ever and more unseasonal. But what role does climate change has to play here?
To explain briefly, global warming caused by terrible human activities over the years like polluting our air led to increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere which in turn made our world very hot, our global temperature is 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial levels and this heat is at the root of all of this.
But this means more heat, and that should have led to more rainfall. But along with greenhouse gasses, we also emitted a lot of aerosols which are basically really really tiny solid particles or small droplets just floating about in the atmosphere. Some of these aerosols cancelled out what the heat was doing and reduced the rainfall causing “monsoon deficits”.
More “Heavy Precipitation Events” Less “Moderate Rain Events”
Going ahead our average rainfall will increase but so will the intensity and tendency of more localised heavy rains called “heavy precipitation events” and “moderate rain events” will decrease especially in India, according to the most important report on climate change IPCC assessment report.
This is really bad news for us because these moderate rain events are critical for the well being of our farms and fields and all agricultural produce.
India is the 5th most vulnerable country to climate change in the world. 600 million Indians, almost half our population, will be directly impacted by rising heat.
And the most vulnerable here would be our coastal and farm communities.