Water shortage for world's wettest place in India

2016-01-05 21:08


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Chennai - For those recently debating climate change at the global summit in Paris, the coinciding deluge in India's southern city of Chennai seemed a powerful illustration that the gathering urgently needed to succeed in its aims.

While flooding hit the south, an increasing lack of water in Cherrapunji, a northeastern town which was once the world’s wettest place, is causing growing concern among residents.

Annual rainfall

Both Indian examples point to the vagaries of climate change on our planet in a country where a rising population always creates huge pressures on the environment.

In 1861, Cherrapunji, known to locals as Sohra, created a world record with 22 987mm of rainfall in a year.

More than 150 years later, and experiencing an average annual rainfall of 11 430mm, it is still the second wettest place in the world.

Mawsynram, a village just six kilometres away and boasting an average annual rainfall of 11 887km, is now considered the dampest place on the globe.

However, the current rainfall in Cherrapunji, located in Meghalaya state, is just one third of what it was in the 1970s.

The reasons for the dramatic decline in rainfall are disputed. 

Residents blame events beyond their control for the problems they face - the place is hotter, drier and shorter of water than even before. 

"We never had very large forests around Cherrapunji. Those that were there were sacred to us and we did not cut a branch," says Millergrace Symlieh, a senior member of the Sohra Science Society.

"We are affected by what's happening all over the world," he told Al Jazeera.

"This hot weather and less rain here is not due to huge deforestation or massive industrialisation. We only have a cement plant near here."

Drop sharply

However, Amarjyoti Borah of the Centre of Environment and Social Policy Research, based in India's northeastern city of Guwahati, says deforestation by illegal logging groups enjoying political patronage has badly damaged the forests around Cherrapunji and that has adversely affected the local ecology.

"The place still gets much rain, but with very few trees still standing, all the water just washes away downhill," says Borah.

"There is no culture of rain harvesting here, as residents never felt it was necessary.

"So Cherrapunji suffers acute water scarcity when the rainfall starts to drop sharply from November until March." 

The past 10 years have seen a major drop in the average annual rainfall in Cherrapunji.

Read more on:    india  |  water shortage

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