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Kozhikode: Kerala is on track to face one of the worst droughts in its history next year, according to experts.

The state experienced a shortage of 34% in southwest monsoon between June and September, which contributes close to almost 70% of its annual rainfall. The northeast monsoon between October and December too seems to be failing, as it has still not started raining even though October is about to end.

“About 2,100mm out of the state’s annual normal 3,000mm rainfall used to come from southwest monsoon. Even if the north-east monsoon revives in November, it may not be sufficient to bridge the existing deficit," said Dineshan V.P., faculty at Central Water Resources Development Management (CWRDM) board, a government-run water studies entity.

“We were supposed to submit a study report on the impact of climate change over Wayanad, one of the worst drought-prone districts in the state. But after seeing what’s going on this year, we decided to factor in this year’s variations and make the report more broad-based," said Dineshan.

“As of now, we are staring at a huge drought like situation next year," said S. Sudhevan, director of state meteorological department. “34 % is the biggest deficit in 40 years. Not sure how far the north-east monsoon in November will be able to mitigate the crisis," he added.

The effects of extreme weather conditions seem to be unraveling already, which according to Dineshan will reveal themselves fully in next year’s summer, starting with an acute water scarcity.

In Wayanad, back-to-back monsoon failures have hit farmers. The district panchayat wants the government to declare the region as drought-hit, The Hindu reported last week.

In Kozhikode, where CWRDM is based, water shortage is an everyday occurrence.

Instances of shrinking river beds and human-animal conflict appear in the local media almost daily. The situation was worse during summer. For instance, for villages of Thenmala, which lies at the foot of the western ghats, it is not unusual to find stray wild animals in their houses, but the number of king cobras spotted this season was much higher.

To be sure, it is not just this year’s rainfall that is worrying environmentalists. They pointed out that it has been nearly 25 years since it rained decently in Kerala. Old timers say that it doesn’t rain anymore during the days of Vishu, Kerala’s harvest festival celebrated in April, which was the case earlier. Hydrologists at CWDRM suggest the levels of groundwater, which is used by an estimated 70% of people for domestic purposes, has dipped drastically.

State government data also shows the state has been getting less rainfall over the years. Between 1981 and 2016, Kerala had normal monsoon only in four years, as per government estimates. The period coincides with the growth in urbanization.

According to Dineshan, it is hard to convince people about climate change in Kerala. In a way, it is understandable because of the lush green geography, full of coconut trees and backwaters and lagoons, he said. “The hard truth is, even in normal years, Kerala struggles for fresh water. Majority of the backwaters are polluted, they can’t be used for fresh water. Actually, the government has been providing drinking water in tankers to coastal regions and high ranges even during normal monsoon years. The talk about having 44 rivers is also misleading. The state has no major rivers. All it has is four median rivers and other small basins," Dineshan added.

In India, a river should have a catchment area of at least 20,000 sq.km to be classified as a major one, and 2,000-20,000 sq.km to be classified as a median one.

Water resources minister Mathew T. Thomas said over phone on Monday that the crisis is duly noted. The reservoirs are running low by 22% when compared to their normal storage capacity of last September, he said. The government is trying its best to avert a power and drinking water crisis. Measures such as setting up water kiosks and rejuvenation of 40,000 private ponds will start soon, he added.

On Twitter, finance minister Thomas Isaac was more pithy. “34% deficit in South-West #monsoon. The North-East monsoon is delayed. Kerala heading for one of worst draughts in history. #ClimateChange," he tweeted last week.

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