Food Security Concerns due to Flooding
Source: Flickr, Diariocritico de Venezuela

In recent weeks, India has experienced heavy rains and flooding, causing hundreds of deaths, hundreds of thousands of evacuations and the inundation of crop land. As a result of these heavy rains, the Ganges River and its tributaries are experiencing dangerously high levels, causing flooding in about 20 districts in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and including Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The situation is reported to be especially severe in Bihar where six rivers are flowing above the danger mark, causing the deaths of 29 people and the evacuation of more than 600,000 people in recent days. As of the August 26, the flood waters appear to have stabilized in Bihar.

India’s Meteorological Department forecasts that excess rainfall will continue over central and northwest India until September 3rd, and is likely to cause more flooding. In the rest of India, rainfall is expected to be below the average for this time period. According to official data, the average amount of rainfall from June 1st – August 20th is 618mm per square metre, which is 1 percent less than the long period average. More specifically, 14 percent of the country has experienced excess rainfall (mostly in the north of the country), 70 percent has received ‘normal’ rainfall, and 16 percent has received deficient rainfall (mostly in the south of the country). The main regions that have experienced deficient rainfall are Punjab, Gujarat, and coastal Karnataka. The Meteorological Department estimates that this year’s monsoon will be 6 percent above the long period average for India as a whole.

Regarding the impact of the monsoon on agriculture and food security, the FAO’s Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) update, released on the 22nd of August, has raised food security concerns for large numbers of people in India following above-average monsoon rainfall since July and the consequent floods and landslides over north-eastern parts of the country. According to official government data, as of mid-August, the floods have affected more than 4.2 million people in Bihar. Moreover, the floods occurred when the 2016 main kharif crops (paddy, maize, sorghum and millet) were still being sown causing damage to crops. Although there is no official assessment of crop damage at this time period, at least 200,000 hectares of crop land in Bihar are expected to be affected.

The update highlights, however, that the abundant rains across India in recent months have generally benefitted planting activities and early crop development of the 2016 main season crops across India as a whole, and the overall impact of flooding on the 2016 main season crop is expected to be limited. Based on this, the FAO retains a positive outlook for the 2016 cereal crops in the entire South Asia sub region.  Official estimates indicate that, as of 12th August, 49.96 million hectares in India have been sown under the main cereal crops, which is 7 percent higher compared to last year’s level. Cereals are the mainstay of Indian agriculture, accounting for more than half of the total area under cultivation and are essential for ensuring food security.

Overall, these rains have also brought relief to areas affected by the El Niño induced dryness and the below average rains experienced across India since 2014. Current forecasts point to a 55-60 percent likelihood of La Niña occurring later on in the year. This is significant as La Niña is historically associated with increased rains in many parts of India. This could benefit the 2016 main season crop development and improve water reservoir levels which are also likely to benefit the 2016 irrigated secondary season crop.

The GIEWS Update can be accessed here.

By: Bas Paris

Photo credit:Flickr, Diariocritico de Venezuela