A Dry, Hot Summer Hits Punjab

International news outlets are a flutter with the latest: in the wake of an unseasonably hot, dry summer, the Bhakra Beas Management Board has decided to cut irrigation water to Punjab, Rajasthan, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. The Punjab government has tried to alleviate the demand for water by curtailing its use of electricity, as well (many segments of the state run on hydroelectric power). Officials have a delayed monsoon has kept the reservoir behind the dam from being recharged. They insist the heat, and dryness, are unrelated to El Nino and a number of other weather-related phenomena.

But what if the impending drought and the water shortage are products of a more permanent weather shift? What if they are related to climate change?

Punjab has long been considered the agricultural powerhouse of India. Fueled by heavy irrigation and the Green Revolution, it has pumped tons of agricultural products into the rest of the State. This process has not been without its critiques, however — agricultural price shocks and the common failures of industrial agriculture (e.g, crop disease, resistant pests, soil degradation, environmental health hazards) — have undermined farm livelihoods over the past ten years.

There have been mild and more severe variations forms of water shortages and drought since 2000 (with some periods of relief). To what extent do water-rationing schemes represent a conservationist approach, and at what point do they indicate a fundamental ecosystem shift toward a dryer, more arid climate? If Punjab’s problem is systemic, then how will curtailing water distribution and irrigation to the northern states impact livelihood and food needs?

This made me wonder how Punjab is going to approach environmentalism, labor diversification, and economic growth moving forward. it already boasts one of the highest unemployment rates in India, and despite its agricultural success, farmer livelihoods have been declining, resulting in a record number of farmer suicides. At what point will Punjab begin to diversify, and invest in, other sectors of its economy? And with respect to its environmental policies, are there additional actions it could take to work towards the larger effort of curtailing the adverse impacts of climate change?


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19 Responses to “A Dry, Hot Summer Hits Punjab”

  1. Harinder says:

    Time to find a new home amongst the billions of galaxies and unvierses as foretold in "Guru Granth sahibji"

  2. Harinder says:

    Time to find a new home amongst the billions of galaxies and unvierses as foretold in “Guru Granth sahibji”

  3. Dalsher Singh says:

    Forgive my ignorance Harinder, however, I have no idea how your comment was relevant to the topic.

    It saddens me to see that Punjab, the land of five rivers, slowly disintegrating due to the lack of its fundamental natural resource: water. I remember going to Punjab a few years back ('06) and even then, many were concerned that water levels were at record low levels; HOWEVER, farmers continued, via taking out large loans, purchasing submersible pumps that went deeper and deeper. On top of that, despite restrictions on the irrigation of chona (rice) to later periods in the season, farmers disregarded these notions and continued to pump out the unbelievably large amounts of water needed for chona.

    I think there are two main sides to this problem:

    1.) Water levels in Punjab are dissipating at exponential rates. NGO's have reported that Punjab will have no suffeciant water supply within in the next 20-25 years if the current trends in farming continue. So some drastic actions needed to be taken to preserve water levels – I am not at all educated in this field, so I won't even attempt to propose any potential solution.

    2.) On the other end of the spectrum, Punjab has gained the title of "bread basket of India." The state has become so dependent on agriculture as its backbone, that it failed to create adequate secondary or tertiary means of economic growth – if I am not mistaken, the textile industry of Punjab has mostly be relocated to southern parts of India. So as a result of this agricultural dependence, the majority of the employed in Punjab are in this sector, and ergo, farming is their main line of income. Water is vital to their prosperity, and with Punjab's recent economic woes, they (farmers) will continue to keep their foot on the pedal of water and pump until the rangli dharthi of Punjab is dry. While these farmers are certainly at fault for utilizing water in such an inefficient manner, and thus causing this problem, one must sympathize with them in that they have no other option.

    Man, I am glad this issue is getting attention on the foreign level, because at the end of the day (sorry, I hate cliches, but it fit), Punjab is nothing without water. I know that sounds stupid, because what place with living organisms is anything without water, but I am referring to water supplemental to that needed for human survival; the water supply needed for the survival of Punjab's heart – farming. Farming is ingrained into nearly every aspect of Punjab, and if it disappears due to the current crisis, so does so many generations of traditions and folk history. And readers of my humble post, that is a day I never want to see.

  4. Bandana Kaur says:

    Please also check out this recent study:

    "In Rural Punjab, Drinking Water is Becoming a Silent Killer"

    http://www.livemint.com/2008/05/19011251/In-rural

  5. Dalsher Singh says:

    Forgive my ignorance Harinder, however, I have no idea how your comment was relevant to the topic.

    It saddens me to see that Punjab, the land of five rivers, slowly disintegrating due to the lack of its fundamental natural resource: water. I remember going to Punjab a few years back (’06) and even then, many were concerned that water levels were at record low levels; HOWEVER, farmers continued, via taking out large loans, purchasing submersible pumps that went deeper and deeper. On top of that, despite restrictions on the irrigation of chona (rice) to later periods in the season, farmers disregarded these notions and continued to pump out the unbelievably large amounts of water needed for chona.

    I think there are two main sides to this problem:
    1.) Water levels in Punjab are dissipating at exponential rates. NGO’s have reported that Punjab will have no suffeciant water supply within in the next 20-25 years if the current trends in farming continue. So some drastic actions needed to be taken to preserve water levels – I am not at all educated in this field, so I won’t even attempt to propose any potential solution.

    2.) On the other end of the spectrum, Punjab has gained the title of “bread basket of India.” The state has become so dependent on agriculture as its backbone, that it failed to create adequate secondary or tertiary means of economic growth – if I am not mistaken, the textile industry of Punjab has mostly be relocated to southern parts of India. So as a result of this agricultural dependence, the majority of the employed in Punjab are in this sector, and ergo, farming is their main line of income. Water is vital to their prosperity, and with Punjab’s recent economic woes, they (farmers) will continue to keep their foot on the pedal of water and pump until the rangli dharthi of Punjab is dry. While these farmers are certainly at fault for utilizing water in such an inefficient manner, and thus causing this problem, one must sympathize with them in that they have no other option.

    Man, I am glad this issue is getting attention on the foreign level, because at the end of the day (sorry, I hate cliches, but it fit), Punjab is nothing without water. I know that sounds stupid, because what place with living organisms is anything without water, but I am referring to water supplemental to that needed for human survival; the water supply needed for the survival of Punjab’s heart – farming. Farming is ingrained into nearly every aspect of Punjab, and if it disappears due to the current crisis, so does so many generations of traditions and folk history. And readers of my humble post, that is a day I never want to see.

  6. Bandana Kaur says:

    Please also check out this recent study:

    “In Rural Punjab, Drinking Water is Becoming a Silent Killer”

    http://www.livemint.com/2008/05/19011251/In-rural-Punjab-drinking-wate.html

  7. Harinder says:

    Dear Dalsher my answer refers to a distant futurewhen we will be required to abort the planet earth.

    i know that Punjab needs to use all its talent and resources to overcome its currant water scarcity.

    But we all know that one day when the Sun shall become a red giant it shall engulf the planet earth .

    and no earth shall exist(which includes our beloved Punjab too).

    That is why I said that the future thinkers and livers must start findig a alternative home for ourselves amongst the distant glaxies and universes.

  8. Harinder says:

    Dear Dalsher my answer refers to a distant futurewhen we will be required to abort the planet earth.
    i know that Punjab needs to use all its talent and resources to overcome its currant water scarcity.
    But we all know that one day when the Sun shall become a red giant it shall engulf the planet earth .
    and no earth shall exist(which includes our beloved Punjab too).
    That is why I said that the future thinkers and livers must start findig a alternative home for ourselves amongst the distant glaxies and universes.

  9. Bandana Kaur says:

    The declining water tables in Punjab are a key driver in the present suicide crisis, yet we also much understand why Punjab is losing so much water. Why does this equation continue today? I feel like the Sikh community tends to hang on the injustices of the diversion of Punjab's river waters were diverted to Rajasthan and Haryana. This is a tragedy of planning and engineering which still replicates itself in South Asia and China through the creation of large dams, water engineering projects, and systematic disruptions in the water cycle, depriving people of access to resources they once had.

    But this is not the end of the story. We must also ask ourselves why water levels continue decline, and what poor planning is in place today. Much of Punjab’s water is lost because the government supplies free electricity to Punjabi farmers allowing them to suck groundwater endlessly from underground aquifers, along with the current international trade regime that sends Punjab’s water to other parts of India and the world through water guzzling cash crops to satisfy foreign and domestic markets rather than indigenous varieties to serve local markets.

    Climate change is happening with high certainty, and is very likely to impact northern South Asia changes in monsoon cycles, a 30 percent reduced flow from Himalayan glaciers, and a 70 percent reduce crop output by 2100. But I hope we don’t resign to the fact that climate change is something that happens to Punjab that we can’t control. Punjab’s vulnerability comes from the fact that there are a series of policies in place that exacerbate the impacts of climate change far beyond their initial impact.

    Your post further points to an essential part of the equation. Environmental security in Punjab have everything to go with good governance and livelihoods in Punjab. Restoring a sense of dignity to traditional agriculture, indigenous crop varieties, local markets, traditional water-saving techniques like rainwater harvesting, preservation of wetlands, education about Punjab’s traditional water heritage, and water pricing that reflects its true cost is what is the need of the hour.

  10. Bandana Kaur says:

    The declining water tables in Punjab are a key driver in the present suicide crisis, yet we also much understand why Punjab is losing so much water. Why does this equation continue today? I feel like the Sikh community tends to hang on the injustices of the diversion of Punjab’s river waters were diverted to Rajasthan and Haryana. This is a tragedy of planning and engineering which still replicates itself in South Asia and China through the creation of large dams, water engineering projects, and systematic disruptions in the water cycle, depriving people of access to resources they once had.

    But this is not the end of the story. We must also ask ourselves why water levels continue decline, and what poor planning is in place today. Much of Punjabs water is lost because the government supplies free electricity to Punjabi farmers allowing them to suck groundwater endlessly from underground aquifers, along with the current international trade regime that sends Punjabs water to other parts of India and the world through water guzzling cash crops to satisfy foreign and domestic markets rather than indigenous varieties to serve local markets.

    Climate change is happening with high certainty, and is very likely to impact northern South Asia changes in monsoon cycles, a 30 percent reduced flow from Himalayan glaciers, and a 70 percent reduce crop output by 2100. But I hope we dont resign to the fact that climate change is something that happens to Punjab that we cant control. Punjabs vulnerability comes from the fact that there are a series of policies in place that exacerbate the impacts of climate change far beyond their initial impact.

    Your post further points to an essential part of the equation. Environmental security in Punjab have everything to go with good governance and livelihoods in Punjab. Restoring a sense of dignity to traditional agriculture, indigenous crop varieties, local markets, traditional water-saving techniques like rainwater harvesting, preservation of wetlands, education about Punjabs traditional water heritage, and water pricing that reflects its true cost is what is the need of the hour.

  11. RAJINDER SINGH says:

    If bottled water can be sold for a price in Punjab, then why should natural water of same quality be free to others ?

    This is a major policy issue that requires co-ordinated intervention at a high level to be effective. In democracratic terms- it means people being aware of the issue, being on the same side, and demanding strong action from elected and administrative officials – atleast through their votes.

    None of these things are happening at a large enough scale to be effective. Water problem is a major issue and not going away.

    Meanwhile the community needs to pull together to take care of mental health issues resulting from stress, inablity to cope, hopelessness, failure of expectations,etc. This is definitely where Gurudwara and community level support is important.

    Support for individuals going through a bad phase needs to extend far beyond immediate family, because more than likely, the immediate family is also suffering a lot.

    Bad times, like good ones, dont last.

  12. RAJINDER SINGH says:

    If bottled water can be sold for a price in Punjab, then why should natural water of same quality be free to others ?

    This is a major policy issue that requires co-ordinated intervention at a high level to be effective. In democracratic terms- it means people being aware of the issue, being on the same side, and demanding strong action from elected and administrative officials – atleast through their votes.

    None of these things are happening at a large enough scale to be effective. Water problem is a major issue and not going away.

    Meanwhile the community needs to pull together to take care of mental health issues resulting from stress, inablity to cope, hopelessness, failure of expectations,etc. This is definitely where Gurudwara and community level support is important.

    Support for individuals going through a bad phase needs to extend far beyond immediate family, because more than likely, the immediate family is also suffering a lot.

    Bad times, like good ones, dont last.

  13. RAJINDER SINGH says:

    Brother Harinder, your idea of moving to another galaxy certainly has merit. You know any Agents ?

  14. RAJINDER SINGH says:

    Brother Harinder, your idea of moving to another galaxy certainly has merit. You know any Agents ?

  15. Harinder says:

    We are the agents . Wahe guru himself has shown us the way.

    Join NASA,ISRO as aerospace engineers in dozens and begin the greatest adventure to be unfolded in history of mankind.

    Meet new people, civilizations ,species etc and see the beautiful universe the "WAHEGURU " has created.

  16. Harinder says:

    We are the agents . Wahe guru himself has shown us the way.
    Join NASA,ISRO as aerospace engineers in dozens and begin the greatest adventure to be unfolded in history of mankind.
    Meet new people, civilizations ,species etc and see the beautiful universe the “WAHEGURU ” has created.

  17. RAJINDER SINGH says:

    Brother Harinder,

    I like your idea of space travel, but I am beginning to have doubts.

    You see, even NASA has a water problem. All their astranauts drink water recycled from the toilet.

    I dont trust them. What if in the middle our inter galactic space odyssey, their water starts foaming ? Nah, I think we better off solving water crisis in Punjab.

    But please continue thinking outside the "box". Who knows what is out there.

    brgds

  18. RAJINDER SINGH says:

    Brother Harinder,
    I like your idea of space travel, but I am beginning to have doubts.

    You see, even NASA has a water problem. All their astranauts drink water recycled from the toilet.

    I dont trust them. What if in the middle our inter galactic space odyssey, their water starts foaming ? Nah, I think we better off solving water crisis in Punjab.

    But please continue thinking outside the “box”. Who knows what is out there.

    brgds

  19. […] this month TLH discussed how the unseasonably dry summer in Punjab is threatening its agriculture and economy. This week, the Punjab Assembly adopted a resolution authorizing the development of […]