ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Spring 2009

India and Drought

ESRL scientists help India plan national drought network

ESRL’s Robin Webb and Roger Pulwarty traveled to India in January, at the request of government officials there seeking advice about establishing a drought early warning information system similar to the US National Integrated Drought Information System, NIDIS.

Pulwarty and Webb helped develop NIDIS, which integrates drought risk, impacts, adaptation information, and expertise from several government agencies and research institutions.

Robin Webb Roger Pulwarty

Robin Webb (top) and Roger Pulwarty (bottom)

“The Indian officials wanted to talk with us about the organizational part of this, the infrastructure,” Pulwarty said. “They’ve got the scientific and technical capacity. They’re just trying to figure out how to make it all work together as an effective information system.”

Three Indian researchers from the Department of Agriculture’s extension service and the Arid Lands Institute traveled to the United States last summer to talk with experts at ESRL and the US Geological Survey, and to attend a NIDIS workshop in Kansas on the national status of drought early warning systems. Pulwarty, Webb, and Chris Funk from the Geological Survey returned that visit in January, meeting with Indian officials at several levels of government, from the Meteorological Department and the National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management to the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture.

The visit was supported by the US Agency for International Development, USAID, which recently added drought risk management to its list of top risk management concerns. Famines have devastated India periodically, with both political and climate causes. A recent study uncovered a tight relationship between El Niño events and the failure of the Indian monsoon—which may help in forecasting droughts. Monsoon rains are critical for agriculture across India.

Webb said his Indian colleagues face different challenges than he and Pulwarty dealt with when working to create a national drought information system out of parts scattered throughout government. In India, for example, department ministers seek funding from Parliament individually, instead of having a president or prime minister pitch a coordinated budget. That makes funding a new national system challenging. India also lacks a national rangeland policy, although rangeland management is a critical part of dealing with drought.

However, local governments across India already do a good job of collecting on-the-ground information about drought impacts and responses, Webb and Pulwarty said, and there is a solid understanding that any drought information system must have both social and scientific dimensions.

USAID is also funding ESRL’s Marty Hoerling and Balaji Rajagopalan, from the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, to continue their research studying the effect of climate change on drought and monsoons in India.