Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Dark and Dry

If you're reading this outside India, you've probably already heard that we've been having some power problems of late. On Sunday night, somewhere around 2 a.m., I was awoken by the unmistakable sound of my AC unit clunking off with a finality that can only mean "power cut". Believe me, it's not a sound you want to hear on a Delhi summer night.

To be fair, Sunday night was only slightly sauna-like, positively mild by Delhi standards, and anyway I was too dog-tired to have much difficulty getting back to sleep. To my surprise, though, the power was still off when my alarm went off five and a half hours later, and hadn't returned an hour after that when Anil came to pick me up.

Turned out, as I'm sure you're all aware, that I wasn't the only one having problems. In fact, everyone in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh had apparently also lost their juice. The whole northern-central part of the country - millions and millions of people - had been affected by the Great Northern Grid Failure.

Only we can't call it that, because it happened again today, this time in the afternoon. Or at least that's what I'm told, because our office generators did sterling work and we didn't even notice (a colleague spotted it on the BBC news). But it's all quite worrying. India has creaky power infrastructure and supply shortages, but a failure on this scale hasn't been seen for about a decade. So I'm thinking two in one week is not a good indicator of things to come.

As if that wasn't bad enough, it's looking like the future is going to be increasingly dry and hot as well as dark. Delhi is parched right now. Last year, when I got caught in a downpour at Humayun's Tomb, it was the start of a couple of months when it rained almost every day - not constantly, but reliably there was a pretty hefty dumping of water every afternoon during the monsoon. This year, there have been three serious bouts of rainfall that I can think of. Days and days go by during India's famous rainy season without a drop. I'm told the last few monsoons have been late and capricious. This year, the monsoon just hasn't bothered at all.

The rains fail every now and then and it's unpleasant for the city's residents, worse for the farmers who depend on the monsoon for their livelihoods. But there is now serious talk of a permanent change in the monsoon patterns. That's a truly terrifying prospect. One drought can be weathered without significant social change; take away the monsoon, and you lose a key part of what makes this much life possible in such a relatively small amount of space. The majority of India's population is still rural, and the majority of them still farm. And all of them, of course, need to eat.

This week feels like a rather alarming foretaste of things to come, if India's stressed climate does not get some relief. A hotter, drier, hungrier Delhi with paralysing power shortages and ever-more people moving in from the parched fields? It's a scary vision indeed. 


Anonymous said...

I thought the nights were hot and sticky here. Clearly not.

Poor In Java said...

I can understand that feeling. When I was in India, which is my 1st 26 years of life, I always struggled with the heat and humidity. When moved to US, people were surprised to see me comfortable in short sleeves in -10 F :)
Take care dude. Indian heat can sting bad at times, especially if you are not used to it and you have such extended power failures.
And they say (Satyamev Jayate team) that India has adequate power, where is it then if Northern Indian states are out of power for so long