Monsoon Katrina

A harder rain is already falling, in India.

Published December 4, 2006 6:28PM (EST)

"Extreme rain events" are on the rise in India, says a paper published in the Dec. 1 issue of Science magazine. From 1981-2000, the incidence and intensity of heavy rain bursts during the monsoon season rose, as compared with the 1950s and '60s. Overall rainfall has stayed about the same, attributable to a drop in moderate rain events. (Thanks to SciDev.Net for the link. )

The culprit: climate change. The prospects: grim.

Another recently published paper, included as background material in the much publicized Stern Review on climate change, offers up some context for understanding the potential consequences of increased monsoon volatility.

The population of India is expected to increase to about 1.5 billion by 2030. Food production must increase by 5 million tons per year to keep pace with this increase and ensure food security. Much of this extra production will need to come from rain-fed agriculture that comprises 70 percent of the farmed land -- but these rain-fed farming systems are acutely vulnerable to climate variability and change.

So what's the problem, you might ask, if rainfall isn't declining? Ask a farmer who has just had a flash flood send her topsoil into the nearest river. Extreme rain events aren't good for settled agriculture.

Just a few minutes ago, How the World Works was reveling in the satisfying return to global sanity signified by John Bolton's resignation as ambassador to the United Nations. But it didn't take long to get a reminder of how turbulent, and unsettling, the rest of this century promises to be. Monsoons, typhoons, hurricanes -- we'll need some stronger umbrellas.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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