Why Is South Asian Monsoon Important
Monsoons occur every year in many countries around the world, so why is it that we almost always hear the Indian or South Asian monsoon mentioned and the others omitted? It is true, that the Indian monsoon is the largest of the phenomena, but that is no reason to nullify the others. What is, is what the monsoon means to the people who live in affected regions.
In India, people’s lives are balanced on a knife-edge. More than 40% of the total population (which was more than one billion and a hundred and fifty million people by the 2009 census) falls below the international poverty line of earning 1.25 US$ per day. That is about one-third of the world’s poor population. Many people rely on agriculture to survive, but the conditions are harsh. Water shortages are constant, and their most widespread staple is rice, which needs constant irrigation to burgeon, and withers quickly if water supply is scant.
Figure 1: The difference between a rice paddy in dry season (winter, left) and in the monsoon season (summer, right)
That means that the Indians welcome the monsoon, because it is an ample source of clean, fresh water that provides more than 80% of their freshwater supplies. At the same time, however, the Indians fear what the monsoon will bring, for it is a dangerous phenomenon. Monsoons are known for the extreme amounts of precipitation produced over a very short time, and more often than not result in floods. Imagine all the poor people living in sub-par conditions with no sewerage and in badly constructed housing that rely on nearby rivers for water supplies. Once the potent torrential rains start, the rivers overflow, and the inadequate infrastructure leads to exacerbation and extirpation of properties of already poor people and deaths due to flooding.
Figure 2: A distorted map in which territory size shows the proportion of all people who have died in disasters due to floods in those areas between 1975 and 2000. Source: www.worldmapper.org
In an economic interpretation, India is largely self-sufficient in major food productions such as rice and wheat, but drought conditions resulting from the absence or lateness of the monsoon can force the country to turn to international markets. This happened in 2009 when India had to import sugar, and as a result, the global prices skyrocketed and inflation increased. Heavy monsoon rains lift domestic demand, as incomes of rural people, who constitute about two-thirds of the population, increase because of higher farm outputs. So, in a sense, Indian people living in rural areas know that many of them might not survive the next monsoon, but they have to welcome it with resignation nevertheless.
In this essay, I will look at how the Southern Asian monsoon is formed and travels across southern Asia, the factors that affect the amount of rain that is precipitated and how that affects people living in those areas.
Putting Monsoon Into Context – an...