In India, an area about the size of California and Texas combined is degraded and one quarter of the country is facing desertification, according to the country’s environment minister, Prakash Javadekar. The overgrazing of land combined with changing rainfall patterns and worsening drought is believed to be behind the dramatic numbers. As more land becomes unusable, the food security of the Indian population — about 17 percent of the world’s population — is increasingly endangered.
According to Forbes, in 2007, India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research predicted that by 2050 a little less than 10 percent of the country would have desertified beyond use. Javadekar’s estimate puts the country ahead of schedule — in the worst way — by about 100 to 140 years.
“Land is becoming barren, degradation is happening,” Javadekar told The Economic Times. “A lot of areas are on the verge of becoming deserts.”
The desertification numbers released by the environment minister match with a report by the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Secretariat which estimated that 81.45 million hectares, or 24.8 percent of the country’s geographic area, is undergoing desertification.
Recent heat waves across several northern and eastern Indian states over the last month have killed hundreds and caused widespread power outages and riots.
In a sign of the times, authorities in northern India last week ordered the closure of a Coca-Cola bottling plant, citing water shortages.
India receives 80 percent of its precipitation during the monsoon season, which usually stretches from the beginning of June through September. But over just the last 50 years, as the climate has warmed, the monsoon has become increasingly erratic and interspersed with extreme weather events that can lead to deadly flooding when parched areas are suddenly hit with massive amounts of rain.
A 2009 report by the Indian Meteorological Department’s Mumbai office found that temperatures in the city had risen by 1.62°C over the last 100 years and that there has been a tripling of natural disasters compared to the 1960s.
This year, the monsoons arrived on India’s southwest coast about a week later than usual. Currently, the rains have spread to about half of the country, but many areas are still waiting for relief and even in the areas where rain has begun to fall, it is still less than normal. The India Meteorological Department (IMD), focused on the so far weak and tardy monsoon in its latest report on the situation in the country.
Rainfall from June 1–18 has been deficient across India — on average, 45 percent less than usual. Rainfall was 53 percent below the average in northwest India. In many areas of the country, conditions are on par with those of June in 2009, which was the worst drought to strike the country in 30 years.
The 2014 monsoon was predicted to be weaker than normal, and if El Niño does continue to develop, the rains could be even less. Ten of India’s last 13 droughts occurred in El Niño years.