As the rain starts to recede from coastal Karnataka, the state has turned its attention to its north-eastern districts, where highly deficient rainfall through the monsoon season has increased the likelihood of a drought being declared. A cabinet meeting has been called on August 31 to assess the situation. The biggest shortfall is in Yadgir district in Kalaburagi division, which is prone to low rainfall.

This comes at a time when Karnataka is still dealing with the aftermath of floods and landslides in several of its districts, particularly Kodagu.

Other parts of the country, particularly in South India and East India, have also received low rainfall this monsoon, as this map of seasonal rainfall data from the India Meteorological Department shows:

Credit: Anand Katakam

Deficient rain in South India

As Karnataka prepares for its meeting, Andhra Pradesh has already declared 274 blocks in six districts – including the entire Rayalaseema region – as severely affected by drought. One block is moderately affected. While urban blocks are not included in this list, The Hindu reported that they will receive any drought-linked benefits for drinking water.

The drought in Andhra Pradesh comes at a time of devastation caused by floods near the Godavari and Krishna rivers, with some island villages being cut off from the mainland along the Godavari. Around 15,000 residents from these villages have shifted to relief camps. Nearly 15,000 hectares of agricultural land have been damaged.

In Tamil Nadu, drought-prone Krishnagiri district is the worst affected with a higher than 60% rain deficiency. Apart from the three Western Ghats districts of Coimbatore, Theni and Thirunelveli, and four districts in the plains – Kanchipuram, Virudhunagar, Sivaganga and Pudukkottai – the entire state has received between 20% and 59% lower rain than normal.

Credit: Anand Katakam

East India, North East also hit

Rainfall in East India and North East India has also been highly deficient, including in large parts of Bihar and Jharkhand where sowing levels have gone down. The worst affected district is Khunti in Jharkhand, just south of Ranchi. The northern halves of Bihar and West Bengal have also received less than normal rain.

Among the North East districts where the India Meteorological Department collects data, Upper Siang and Tirap in Arunachal Pradesh, Dhemaji in Assam, Kiphire in Nagaland and Churachandpur in Manipur have reported highly deficient rain.

The shortfall in these areas is part of the “normal variation of the monsoon”, said DS Pai, head of the climate research division at the India Meteorological Department. This year, weak easterly winds, which bring a low pressure region across the Bay of Bengal, have meant that eastern and interior parts of India have not received as much rain as they normally do.

Flood here, drought there

The shortfall in rain does not necessarily mean there will be a water shortage in the coming months as most reservoirs in the country have received higher than normal rain, according to data from the Central Water Commission, which is attached to the Union Ministry of Water Resources.

This unusual situation has led to reports of inundated areas near rivers mere kilometres away from vast stretches of dry land. The canal and drainage system in various states is likely to be tested yet again in the coming months, but perhaps not to great success, as this report from Karnataka suggests.

Crops have also been affected by intermittent rain in Central India, though the full extent of the damage is yet to be reported. A study by the Indian Institutes of Technology in Indore and Guwahati released in July found that almost two-thirds of India’s districts were not drought-resilient, with vegetation disappearing in 68% of the areas covered during a drought year.