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Of these, around 140 districts were termed severely to extremely dry in the October 2017-March 2018 period. Another 109 districts were moderately dry while 156 had mild dry conditions.
The January to March rainfall left 153 districts across the country in the severe to extremely dry category. The IMD data evaluated 588 districts in all.
Worryingly, even when rainfall since June last year is considered — which includes the 2017 monsoon months — IMD’s standardised precipitation index (SPI) shows 368 districts under mild to extremely dry conditions. This indicates sustained dry conditions in many districts.
SPI is a widely used measure for determining meteorological drought. It uses a scale from +2 to -2, where two and above denotes extreme wetness while minus two or less shows extreme dry conditions, with values in between depicting the range of other conditions, from severely wet to severely dry.
“SPI has been accepted worldwide as an accurate measure of rainfall distribution. It shows the extent of dryness or wetness at a particular place as compared to normal rainfall,” said Pulak Guhathakurta, head of IMD’s climate data management and service.
While every year many parts of the country face water shortages during summers, what has worsened the situation this year is the very poor winter rainfall. IMD data reveals a 63% rain deficit across India during January and February. The shortfall from March to April 11 stands at 31%.
SPI data from January to March reflects this, showing as many as 472 districts facing mild to extreme dryness, with 153 districts in the severe to extreme dry category. Most of the dry districts are in north, central and west India, as well as some places in the east such as Bihar and Jharkhand. The rainfall deficit is particularly large in northwest India, which includes the three hill states, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The region received 10% less rainfall during the last monsoon season. The later months were worse, with shortfalls of over 54% in October-December and 67% in January-February.
Guhathakurta was careful in adding that while the SPI data may indicate the possibility of water distress in many parts of the country, it doesn’t forecast droughts. “That’s the job of the district administrations, which look into the water availability situation in their areas,” the official said.
The poor rains have impacted water storage in the country. The latest government data reveals that 91 major reservoirs of the country were on average running at 25% of capacity, as on April 12. This was 16% lower than the corresponding period last year and 10% lower than the 10-year average.
A government release said states with lower water levels than the corresponding period last year were Punjab, Jharkhand, Odisha, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.
In a report released on Wednesday, the US-based World Resources Institute named India among countries which could suffer acute shortages because of shrinking reservoir levels. It cited the conflict between Gujarat and MP last year over the release of Narmada waters from the Indira Sagar reservoir, where levels had fallen to 33% lower than average.
Water shortages have already begun to show. Last month, low levels at the Sardar Sarovar dam had prompted the Gujarat government to order stoppage of water supply for irrigation. It said the remaining stock of water would be used only for drinking purposes.