Monsoon: Why can’t we get ready in time?

India_Floods__systems@deccanmaild1.jpg

A surprise early monsoon should be welcome news for much of the subcontinent, whose mainly agricultural economy is so dependent on the rains, but not if it catches us unprepared — despite all the warnings!
A normal monsoon is hardly a rarity (past patterns suggest three out of four monsoons yield normal rainfall), so nature’s bounty last weekend, particularly in India’s north and northwest areas, should have brought glad tidings of the promised normal monsoon — were they not completely overwhelmed by the deluge. One reason why the monsoons are now getting harder to predict or pinpoint is possibly the effects of climate change. But the scale of devastation in the mountain states, mainly Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, has been horrendous to behold.
That rescue teams from the National Disaster Management Authority were stuck in Hardwar in the plains rather than at work in the mountains is symbolic of our shoddy preparedness to tackle what is an annual phenomenon. Not that our major metropolises were much better prepared: we could see what flooding did to life in Mumbai or to Delhi airport’s swanky T3 terminal.
The Indian Meteorological Department may have forecast a normal monsoon but it had almost no clue on its early and ra­pid spread across the country, nor did it pr­e­dict that 55 per cent excess rainfall would take place in less than a fortnight. The met office, with its weather satellites and multiple equipment upgrades, hasn’t been able to demonstrate any measurable improvement in its predictions over the years.
The argument is that a low pressure system over Chhattisgarh interacted with a wes­tern disturbance to bring unprecede­n­ted rainfall almost a fortnight to a month early. The fact remains that each year rains have the same catastrophic effect on many urban centres mainly because our civic infrastructure is incapable of handling the first downpour, let alone what follows.
It may be some consolation that nature’s fury is not well handled even by some of the most advanced industrial societies, as demonstrated by Hurricane Sandy in New York last year and Katrina earlier. We should at least try and be prepared by rechecking urban water draining infrastructure lest we suffer due to the monsoon that is in fact our saviour.
The least that the northern states, that struggle every year with the monsoons, can do is earmark a substantial fund to help mitigate hardships people in remote areas endure. While urban India somehow manages to pull itself together as the waters recede, the Himalayan states are the ones that need help the most.

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