Having looked at rain and floods here in York, I’m now moving on to a more extreme form of rain, monsoons.
Before we get started though, we need to look at the definition of a monsoon. A monsoon is a seasonal shift in winds. Possibly not the definition you were expecting. Surely a monsoon is about rain and the wet season? Well, the shift in winds brings the rain. The winds suddenly come from a different source and they come bearing water.
India is well known for its monsoon season and numerous sources on the internet say that the country experiences to most dramatic monsoon in the world so India will be my focus here. But before I turn to India, it’s worth noting that there are many places around the world which have a monsoon including countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Laos, India, and Pakistan. Parts of Australia, Africa and the Americas also experience monsoon rains.
Let’s head back to India where the monsoon heralds a season of love, romance and enchantment. This may be hard to make sense of in England where the rains send us all scurrying for shelter but in India, the monsoon rains are the gift of life. In some areas, 90% of the annual rain arrives with the monsoon (although on average it’s about 75%). This makes the monsoon an essential source of water for drinking, cooking, for livestock, for farming, for industries, for hydroelectric power, irrigation and so much more. To say that the monsoon waters make or break the Indian economy is not an exaggeration.
When the peacock begins to dance, the monsoon is on its way
– Old Indian saying
The monsoon season is changing. It is becoming harder to predict and more powerful, bringing heavier rains and arriving earlier than normal. It is already hard enough to predict, accurately, the start of the monsoon. A government department monitors the weather across India and farmers use this information along with traditional methods to plan their planting. Too soon and the seeds will have no water to grow, too late and they will drown.
Its clear to see that the monsoon rains are a time for celebration in India. They are life bringing, life affirming. They are a creative force and a reinvigorating energy. They bring hope, happiness and joy. They cleanse the hot air, refreshing and recharging the land and the people.
But these rhythmic cycles are not always a blessing, they can turn in an instant into a curse. They cause chaos by creating waterlogged roads, disruption to trains, close schools and airports and play havoc with business. They can damage crops, homes, kill animals, kill humans… People die from electrocution when water reaches live cables. They become ill when stagnant pools of water form and create excellent breeding grounds for malaria, cholera, typhoid etc. People get struck by lightening – there are an estimated 500,000 lightening strikes in a monsoon. In 2005, at least 1100 people died in India during the monsoon. In 2013, an estimated 5,700 people were killed.
And if you are unlucky enough to live somewhere which isn’t in the monsoons path that year, you face a whole host of other problems. You have little or no water for your family, your livestock, to grow crops. When this occurs, people move to areas where the rain has fallen and ghost towns are left behind. Where people haven’t left their homes, the effects of drought can kill and farmers are known to take their own lives.
Without the monsoon, death becomes the dominant force.
Plants and animals don’t escape the monsoon either. Those animals in areas of rainfall need to head to higher grounds and to do so can involve crossing roads and encountering people (who tend to be a big danger, worldwide, to animals). Those in areas of drought face the problem of lack of water and the knock on effect of lack of vegetation.
The monsoon has shaped the land and lives of India for many years and will continue to do so for many more. Rain truly is a powerful force.