Mumbai through the Monsoon: Embracing the Rains
A recent increase in rains is good news for farmers but bad news for Mumbaikers on the move. Image via Reuters.

A recent increase in rains is good news for farmers but bad news for Mumbaikers on the move. Image via Reuters.

According to Reuters India, monsoon rains were about 3 percent above normal in July — the highest level for the month since 2005.  This is good news for rural farmers, and the city-dwellers who rely on rain for their food.  And it looks like the trend will continue: India’s weather office, the Met, says rainfall should be 107 percent of normal for August and September.

Last year, low rainfall in June and July led to a massive crop failure and a food-led surge of inflation.  This year, the higher rainfall makes such a crisis unlikely (although inflation is surging, anyway, due to higher fuel prices).

Farm Minister Sharad Pawar is pleased, saying “I am always happy with more rains.”

But higher rains place greater strain on Mumbai’s transit infrastructure and clog the city’s streets.

This paradox is a phenomenon that Indians continue to grapple with, as Sunita Narain, director of Centre for Science and the Environment, points out in a recent blog post, “What Monsoon Means.”

Narain laments, “Today, we cry when it does not rain and weep when it does because rain brings floods and disease in fields and traffic jams in cities.” Much of the problem is that mysteries still surround the annual monsoon in India: what exactly affects it, who studies it, and what is the true definition of the monsoon?

According to Narain, all of these questions — and their answers, when they have answers — should be part of the “usable knowledge” in India.  Indians should view deep knowledge of the monsoon, and all of its nuances, as something necessary to their survival.  Otherwise, they will only move closer to environmental disaster.

At the same time, Narain points out that while many Indians associate “development” with a de-linking from dependence on monsoon rains, this will not happen any time soon.  Sixty years after independence, and after massive investments in irrigation, not only are most crops still rain-fed, but also, most of the irrigation systems use groundwater, which the monsoon rains replenish.  So, as Narain puts it, “The monsoon is and will remain India’s true finance minister.”

So instead of trying to reduce dependence on the monsoon, Indians should deepen their engagement with the monsoon, according to Narain. This means developing a more profound understanding of the monsoon rains and relearning “the art of living with water every year.”

This change in attitude would enable better transit system preparation for monsoon rains, and also prepare the nation to move away from its dependence on concentrated energy sources. Instead of relying on coal and oil, for instance, India could harvest “weaker” energy sources, like sun rays or rainfall — before it flows to rivers and aquifers, where its concentration leads to overexploitation.

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