What is drought?

  • Drought is a temporary aberration, unlike aridity or even seasonal aridity (in terms of a well defined dry season), which is a permanent feature of climate.
  • Drought in contrast is a recurrent, yet sporadic feature of climate, known to occur under all climatic regimes and is usually characterized by variability in terms of its spatial expanse, intensity and duration.
  • There is no universally accepted definition that can encapsulate the complexity of this phenomenon adequately.
  • It is difficult to determine the beginning and end of a drought episode because of the slow, ‘creepy’ onset, silent spread and gradual withdrawal. In India, it is generally considered to be coterminous with the monsoons.
  • Though deficient rainfall is considered to be the primary instigating factor for drought, yet the occurrence, spread and intensity is determined by several factors including susceptibilities introduced by climate change, hydrological and soil profiles, availability of soil moisture, choice of crops and agricultural practices, availability of fodder, socio-economic vulnerabilities etc.

Causes of Recurrence of drought in India

  • Considerable annual / seasonal/regional variations in spite of a high average annual rainfall of around 1,150 mm.
  • A relatively short window of less than 100 days during the South-West Monsoon season (June to September) when about 73% of the total annual rainfall of the country is received.
  • Uneven distribution of rainfall over different parts of the country in that some parts bear an inordinately high risk of shortfalls, while others tend to receive excessive rainfall.
  • Even though India receives abundant rain on an average, for the country as a whole, much of the excess water, which otherwise could have contributed towards enhancing natural resilience towards drought, gets lost as run-offs.
  • Low average annual rainfall of 750 mm over 33% of the cropped area in the country heightens the susceptibility to drought
  • Over-exploitation of ground water and sub-optimum conservation and storage capacity of surface water leading to inadequate water availability for irrigation, particularly in the years of rainfall deficiency.
  • Steady decline in per capita water availability for humans and animals even in non-drought years;
  • Out migration of cattle and other animals from drought hit areas heightens the pressure on resources in surrounding regions.
  • Limited irrigation coverage (net irrigated area in the country is less than 50%) exacerbates the impact of drought on account of complete dependence of agriculture in such areas on rainfall

When and how does a state government declare drought ?

  • There are guidelines in place for a state government for declaring a drought in a state or area under manual published by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2016, which suggests a three-step approach.
  • Step 1:
    • The first step is to look at two mandatory indicators: rainfall deviation and dry spell.
    • Depending on the extent of deviation, and whether or not there is a dry spell, the manual specifies various situations that may or may not be considered a drought trigger.
  • Step 2:
    • The next step is to look at four impact indicators: agriculture, vegetation indices based on remote sensing, soil moisture, and hydrology.
    • Each impact can be assessed on the basis of various indices.
    • The States may consider any three of the four types of the Impact Indicators (one from each) for assessment of drought, the intensity of the calamity and make a judgement.
    • If all three chosen indicators are in the ‘severe’ category, it amounts to severe drought; and if two of the three chosen impact indicators are in the ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ class, it amounts to moderate drought.
  • Step 3:
    • The third step comes in after both previous triggers have been set off.
    • In that event, States will conduct sample survey for ground truthing… in order to make a final determination of drought.
    • The finding of field verification exercise will be the final basis for judging the intensity of drought as ‘severe’ or ‘moderate’.
  • Once a drought is determined, the state government needs to issue a notification specifying the geographical extent. The notification is valid for six months, unless de-notified earlier.

Impacts of Drought :There are many adverse direct and indirect impacts of drought. The impacts could be broadly categorized into Economic, Environmental & Social.

  • Economic: Economic impacts of drought include production losses in agriculture and other related sectors. It causes loss of income resulting in reduction of purchasing power especially among those dependent on agriculture and living in the rural areas. It also has a multiplier effect on other sectors dependent on agriculture for raw material.


  • Environmental: Decreased water levels in reservoirs, canals, ponds are the primary environmental impacts. This will lead to decreased availability of drinking water and water for other needs. It will also cause loss of forest cover etc.
  • Social: Migration of population is the top most social impact resulting out of lack of income. Decrease of income also leads to people withdrawing children from schools, postponement of marriages, sale of assets etc. It will also lead to inadequate food leading to malnutrition and other health hazards.

Relief Measures

  • Various ministries of the Government of India viz., Agriculture, Rural Development, Drinking Water, Animal Husbandry, Food & Public Distribution, Water Resources, Home Affairs, Finance and Railways are involved in planning and implementing the relief measures.
  • The state governments submit reports on drought condition with all the relevant information and the government of India extends support based on these reports.
  • The various relief measures include financial assistance to states, contingency crop planning, relief employment, food security and initiatives to mitigate the impacts.
  • Drought mitigation needs to be ensconced in the regular development programmes of the Centre and State Governments.
  • Some of the most significant current national programmes that may have a decisive bearing on drought mitigation are Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojna, National Rainfed Area Development Programme, National Rural Drinking Water Programme etc.
Section : Environment & Ecology