Erratic Rainfall and Weather Increase Distress in Himalayan Region


Till mid-April an extended spell of dry weather was causing deep concern in Himachal Pradesh. The state government was making preparations to meet drought-like conditions in a big part of the state. At several places an unprecedented number of forest fires had been reported even before the onset of summer. Several villages and even urban settlements had already started suffering from shortages of water, increasing worries about what was to come in the coming summer weeks. Capacity of many water supply schemes had  reduced. Several water sources  had been depleted badly.

Then suddenly there was almost a week of heavy rain and hailstorms plus snowfall in the upper regions. This was so excessive and untimely that while water sources were certainly filled up, at the same time there was heavy damage to orchards and agricultural fields. Orchards of apples, plums, cherries suffered a lot of harm due to excessive and untimely rainfall and snowfall as well as hailstorms. Several apple trees got uprooted. Some vegetable crops like those of capsicum, peas and tomatoes were also harmed. In areas where wheat harvesting had not yet been completed, this crop was also damaged. Since then organizations of farmers and orchard owners have been presenting estimates of the high damage suffered , and pleading for compensation. In some areas known for the high quality of their ginger  crop, stored seeds of ginger crop have suffered heavy damage causing gloom among farmers. In addition of course there were many landslides, road-blockades and other disruptions of normal life.

However if someone looks at the overall rainfall over the first four months of 2021, then the total is now close to the normal for these months as the shortage of the first three months has been largely made up by the torrential rain of less than one week in April. But if you look beyond total volume and instead examine the distribution of total rainfall of these four months then one can see that this has departed a lot from the normal expectation so that there was ample manifestation of  the adverse impacts of prolonged dry weather ( more forest fires, drinking water shortages, harm to crops) as well as excessive rain at the wrong time ( widespread damage to orchards and crops, landslides etc.).

Such recent experiences have not been confined just to Himachal Pradesh. In the neighboring state of Uttarakhand during these four months a record number of forest fires were reported even before the advent of summer proper, and very destructive floods took place first in early February and more recently again in the third week of April ( in Chamoli district). Normally floods of such dimensions would be seen only in the monsoon months while the forest fires on this scale would not be seen in the winter months.

This is very distressing of course but not as surprising as it would seem at first glance as more erratic weather and  rainfall patterns are only to be expected in times of climate change and we have to adapt ourselves to changing times. Such erratic weather patterns are a wake- up call for giving more attention to real priorities and in particularly to environment protection and livelihoods of common people. Another concern should be to avoid expensive hazardous projects in the Himalayan region and to save more resources for meeting the real  needs of common people.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Vimla and Sunderlal Bahuguna—Chipko Movement and the Struggle against Tehri Dam.



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