Rainy Season Doesn't Relieve India's Drought

The monsoon season in India has officially ended. This year's rainfall is down on the average by nearly a quarter. Hundreds of millions of Indians depend on the rains. The country's meteorological department says India's enduring the worst drought since 1972, and that's taking a toll on the country's once booming economy.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We go now to India where the monsoon season has officially ended. And it's been a terrible year because there has been far too little rain. It's been classified as the country's worst drought since 1972.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, that's taking a toll on India's once booming economy.

(Soundbite of thunder and rain)

PHILIP REEVES: India's monsoon makes a final flourish but it's not enough. Hundreds of millions of Indians depend on these rains. This year, rainfall is down, on the average, by nearly a quarter. In many areas there's a drought, the worst for nearly 40 years.

Professor Jayati Ghosh, a leading economist, says its impact extends well beyond rural India.

Professor JAYATI GHOSH (Economist): When farmers don't have money it means that they also do not buy non agricultural goods and services, so everybody is badly affected. And remember, this is happening to us at a time when we're already affected by the global recession. So we've had lots of urban workers losing their jobs and going back to the villages.

REEVES: The drought severity varies from region to region.

Environmental writer Sopan Joshi says many of India's farmers will now be in trouble because their land has no irrigation.

Mr. SOPAN JOSHI (Environmental Writer): So the only source for moisture for the crops is the rain. If you don't have rain, you have nothing.

REEVES: India's government says it has ample food stocks. It's introducing drought relief measures. Rural Indians can also turn to a massive state-run employment program that guarantees 100 days work to every household. The bad monsoon is expected to shave a percentage point or two off India's once impressive growth rate. India is the world's second-largest producer of rice, wheat, and sugar. Prices are soaring.

Professor Ghosh is concerned by what all this means for the rural poor. She says it's adding to a crisis in India's agriculture that's been going on for years.

Prof. GHOSH: More than 200,000 farmers have committed suicide in 10 years, and that's because basically a large part of farming in India is just unviable. The costs are more than the price of output.

REEVES: Many political analysts have another concern: the draught hits the rural poor hardest of all, increasing India's already huge wealth gap. The worry is that this will fuel growing support for Maoist insurgents operating in a vast stretch of Indian countryside.

Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.

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