India Needs to Map Water to Prepare for Drought and Flood

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India Needs to Map Water to Prepare for Drought and Flood

An integrated observation system in India is essential to manage the food-energy-water nexus and better prepare for drought and flood.

Farmers all over India – especially those who do not have irrigation facilities – are now using the agricultural meteorology or agrimet service of the India Meteorological Department and they can get crucial information such as rainfall forecast over the next week through text messages on their phones.

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Image: Drought in India
Image credit: Arun Sankar/AFP

There is a lot that can and should be done to extend the scope of these weather predictions to large-scale hydrological predictions, both short and long term, so that farmers and administrators can plan for the more frequent and more severe floods and droughts that are occurring in South Asia because of climate change.

Information about water flow in rivers is now available through a water resources information system, but that has severe limitations due to regulatory issues – there is no information available to the public about real time water flow in transboundary rivers, thanks to an outdated law.

This means there is no real time water flow information available in the public domain from the three largest river basins in the country – those of the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra. This clearly affects preparations to face floods.

When it comes to drought preparedness, the situation is similar – the information available is better than before but not good enough. The Central Water Commission now puts out in the public domain the water storage status of the 91 largest reservoirs in India and updates this information every week. This list still leaves out far too many water bodies that are crucial in determining if a region will face drought.

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Image: All four gates opened at the Hemavathi reservoir in Karnataka, India.
Image credit: Darshan Simha

India is a country where over half the irrigation is from groundwater. It is the world’s largest groundwater user.

There is another shortcoming – India does not have enough monitoring stations to map air pollution over the country. Most of the monitoring stations are scattered over a few large cities, though satellites show the most polluted zones to be in and around industrial townships and highways. Improving this observation system is crucial because air pollution – especially through aerosols – affects local and regional weather patterns.

Improving these hydrologic and air quality information systems is essential to manage the crucial food-water-energy nexus in a warming world. This will need integrated observations and predictions, which can be carried out through a Regional Earth System Prediction framework.

Regional Earth System Prediction treats land, ocean, atmosphere, ecosystem, agriculture, and human interactions as components of one integrated system. This has to be used with an integrated observation system that provides the data needed to build, validate and verify local and regional weather and long-term climate system models.

For information essential to manage the food-energy-water nexus, India needs two steps: