South Asia: Water deficits in India forecast to diminish

30 July 2019

The 12-month forecast through March 2020 indicates widespread water surpluses in Afghanistan reaching exceptional intensity in the center of the country in the Harirud River system and extending north to Mazar-e Sharif, as well as in the east from Kandahar to Kabul, and in the south along the Helmand River.

In Pakistan, surpluses will be intense in the far north, and moderate to extreme on the Afghan border and along the Indus, Jhelum, and Chenab Rivers.

India can expect intense surpluses in Jammu and Kashmir, and primarily moderate surpluses in Gujarat and north of Mumbai. Surpluses are forecast for Bangladesh and will be exceptional north of Dhaka; moderate surpluses are forecast across the northern border in Meghalaya, India. Surpluses are also forecast along the Gandaki River in central Nepal leading into India, and in Bhutan, where anomalies will be intense in the west.

Deficits are forecast in central India at the intersection of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh, as well as western Odisha. Farther south in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, moderate to exceptional deficits are forecast, and moderate deficits in Karnataka. Moderate deficits are also forecast in a pocket of northern India in northernmost Uttar Pradesh.

The 3-month composites (below) show the evolving conditions in greater detail.

The forecast through September indicates that many parts of India will return to normal water conditions. However, in the south, moderate to severe deficits are forecast in southern Karnataka and in neighboring Kerala and Tamil Nadu. A small pocket of extreme deficit is forecast in the center of Odisha. In the west, primarily moderate surpluses are expected in Gujarat and western Maharashtra along with a few inland pockets. Moderate surpluses are also forecast around Hyderabad, and severe to exceptional surpluses in Jammu and Kashmir in the far north.

Widespread surpluses of varying intensity will persist in Afghanistan with exceptional surpluses around Mazar-e Sharif in the north and from Kandahar to Kabul in the east. Surpluses will shrink considerably in Pakistan but will persist with intensity along the border with Afghanistan and in the north. In Nepal, surpluses are forecast along the Gandaki River in the center of the country leading south into India. Moderate to extreme surpluses are forecast for Bangladesh.

From October through December, normal conditions are forecast for nearly all of India with some surpluses persisting in the far north. Moderate surpluses will emerge in southern Tamil Nadu and a pocket of exceptional deficit will emerge in Gujarat on the north shore of the Gulf of Kutch. Widespread surpluses will persist in Afghanistan and remain intense, though the extent of exceptional anomalies will shrink somewhat. Surpluses will also persist in northern Pakistan and along the northern Afghan-Pakistan border. Surpluses in Bangladesh will shrink and downgrade, leaving a few pockets of moderate surplus, and conditions in Nepal and Bhutan are expected to be normal.

The forecast for the final months – January through March 2020 – indicates an increase in exceptional deficits in Gujarat, India, and a decrease in surpluses in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

(It should be noted that forecast skill declines with longer lead times.)

Months of almost no rain and delayed monsoons caused an acute water crisis in the southern Indian city of Chennai, resulting in business closures and violent clashes among local residents. Most of Chennai’s population, which exceeds 4 million people, relied on government tankers to provide their water, as the city’s main reservoir ran dry. Some meteorologists and other critics lay the blame on poor water management strategies, citing that, had people spent on rain harvesters what they now spend on water tankers, they would be self-sufficient. In late July, monsoon rains finally quenched the city with 35mm (1.4 inches) of rain in one day. 

Intense heat waves reaching over 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) have killed over 100 people in India this summer, reviving scientists’ concerns that parts of India could become too hot for human survival by the end of this century. 

Severe monsoon storms killed at least 130 people across India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka this month. A flooded Brahmaputra River swamped over 1,800 villages in the Indian state of Assam, where 1.7 million people were displaced. Another two million people were displaced from their homes in Bihar State, as were 10,000 in Nepal. Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where over one million Rohingya refugees are sheltered, received over 58cm (23 inches) of rain this month, causing landslides that killed two children. Since early July nearly 3,500 shelters have been damaged, displacing 6,000 refugees. Per Bangladeshi allowance, refugee shelters can only be constructed with tarp, twine, bamboo, or other ‘temporary’ materials, making them at risk of destruction during monsoon season. 

Last year’s monsoon season in India produced Kerala State’s worst floods in nearly 100 years, killing 1,200 people. 

Drought reduced Afghanistan’s opium production by 25 percent last year, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In the past five years farmers in Afghanistan have been slowly switching cultivation from opium to saffron, a crop that requires less water and involves fewer moral quandaries for conservative Muslim farmers. 

In the last 70 years, Pakistan’s water availability has dropped from 5,260 cubic meters (1.39 million gallons) to 935 cubic meters (247,000 gallons) per capita. 

Over 400,000 people in northern Sri Lanka are affected by drought, prompting the country’s Disaster Management Centre to begin distributing water bowsers and tanks across the northern regions, and to request water tanks and bottled water from the general public to aid those affected.

There are numerous regions around the world where country borders are contested. ISciences depicts country boundaries on these maps solely to provide some geographic context. The boundaries are nominal, not legal, descriptions of each entity. The use of these boundaries does not imply any judgement on the legal status of any territory, or any endorsement or acceptance of disputed boundaries on the part of ISciences or our data providers.

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Many analyses reported in ISciences-authored blog posts are based on data generated by the ISciences Water Security Indicator Model (WSIM). Other sources, if used, are referenced in footnotes accompanying individual posts. WSIM is a validated capability that produces monthly reports on current and forecast global freshwater surpluses and deficits with lead times of 1-9 months at 0.5°x0.5° resolution. This capability has been in continuous operation since April 2011 and has proven to provide reliable forecasts of emerging water security concerns in that time-frame. WSIM has the ability to assess the impacts of water anomalies on people, agriculture, and electricity generation. Detailed data, customized visualizations, and reports are available for purchase.

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