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General Studies 3 >> Enivornment & Ecology

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1. Context

In recent times, India has experienced a series of disruptive weather and climate events, shedding light on the intricate nature of its precipitation system. These events have brought to the forefront the complexities and challenges associated with climate change and food security.

2. The Western Disturbances 

  • The Western disturbances, traditionally responsible for bringing vital moisture from European seas to the western Himalayas and northern India during the winter and spring, took an unexpected turn this year.
  • Instead of following its typical pattern, it persisted late into the summer, causing disruptions in the wake of the southwest monsoon.
  • The extended presence of the Western disturbance resulted in severe infrastructure damage and loss of lives due to landslides and floods in the western Himalayan and northern Indian regions.
  • This raised significant concerns about the sustainability and resilience of development projects in these mountainous and flood-prone areas, affecting the lives of millions.

3. El Nino Phase Intensification

  • Adding to the climate complexities, evidence emerged of an intensifying El Nino phase of the quasi-periodic El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), impacting the southwest monsoon.
  • Although not all El Nino events directly affect the monsoon, the relationship between ENSO and the monsoon has been evolving over time, making predictions more challenging.
  • Studies utilizing dynamic regression models have shown that a substantial portion (65%) of the inter-annual variability of the southwest monsoon can be attributed to the combined effects of ENSO and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD).
  • This intricate interplay further complicates the understanding of monsoon behaviour.

4. El Nino's Impact on Agriculture and Food Security

  • Agriculture relies on two essential types of water: green water, which is rain-fed soil moisture vital for crops, and blue water, which includes water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater used for irrigation.
  • Despite substantial investments in irrigation infrastructure, nearly half of India's cultivated area depends on green water.
  • This reliance on rain-fed agriculture underscores the importance of monsoonal rains for food security.
  • India's daily diet, from cooking oil to diverse foods, necessitates an average of 3,268 litres of water per person per day, with 75% of this footprint being green water.
  • Even in irrigated regions, many staple crops significantly rely on green water.
  • During the El Nino year of 2015-2016, soybean production in India declined significantly, highlighting the vulnerability of rain-fed crops to climatic variations.
  • The impact of El Nino on agriculture is multifaceted, affecting sowing, plant growth, and soil moisture due to delayed rains and high temperatures.
  • In the 2015-2016 El Nino year, soybean production in India witnessed a 28% decline from the average.

5. Climate Uncertainties and Future Projections

  • The declining trend in monsoon precipitation since the 1950s, possibly due to the warming of seas, has led to uncertainties about future projections.
  • Climate models have struggled to simulate observed precipitation trends, making it challenging to predict future monsoon behaviour accurately.
  • To mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security, there is a growing emphasis on reducing water-intensive crops in favour of more drought-resistant alternatives like millets.
  • Such shifts in crop choices can reduce vulnerability to phenomena like El Nino, but they require appropriate policies and adaptations.
  • Managing water resources is crucial, and this involves a focus on both short-term and long-term management of dams and reservoirs.
  • Adaptive strategies include early warning systems for intense rain events, diversifying agro-food systems, and sustainable water-sharing between humans and nature.

6. The Way Forward

  • India's water, food, and ecological security are intricately linked to how society and governance respond to the challenges posed by climate change.
  • As the nation grapples with increasingly complex climatic phenomena, diversifying agro-food systems, reducing dependence on water-intensive crops, and sustainable water management will play pivotal roles in securing the well-being of its 1.4 billion people.
For Prelims: climate change, food security, Western disturbance,  southwest monsoon, landslides, floods, El Nino Southern Oscillation, Himalayas, Indian Ocean Dipole, soybean, water-intensive crops, millets, 
For Mains: 
1. Discuss the recent disruptive weather and climate events in India and their implications for food security. How have Western disturbances and an intensifying El Nino phase affected India's precipitation system? (250 Words)
Previous Year Questions
1. Read the following passage and answer the question that follows. Your answers to these items should be based on the passage only.
Policymakers and media have placed the blame for skyrocketing food prices on a variety of factors, including high fuel prices, bad weather in key food producing countries, and the diversion of land to non-food production. Increased emphasis, however, has been placed on a surge in demand for food from the most populous emerging economics. It seems highly probable that mass consumption in these countries could be well poised to create a food crisis.
With reference to the above passage, the following assumptions have been made: (UPSC 2021)
1. Oil producing countries are one of the reasons for high food prices.
2. If there is a food crisis in the world in the near future, it will be in the emerging economies. Which of the above assumptions is/are valid?
A. 1 only        B. 2 only           C. Both 1 and 2         D.  Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: D
2. India has experienced persistent and high food inflation in the recent past. What could be the reasons? (UPSC 2011)
1. Due to a gradual switchover to the cultivation of commercial crops, the area under the cultivation of food grains has steadily decreased in the last five years by about 30.
2. As a consequence of increasing incomes, the consumption patterns of the people have undergone a significant change.
3. The food supply chain has structural constraints.
Which of the statements given above are correct? 
A. 1 and 2 only          B. 2 and 3 only        C. 1 and 3 only          D. 1, 2 and 3
Answer: B
3. Consider the following crops of India: (UPSC 2012)
1. Groundnut
2. Sesamum
3. Pearl millet
Which of the above is/are predominantly rainfed crop/crops?
A. 1 and 2 only      B. 2 and 3 only      C. 3 only         D. 1, 2 and 3
Answer: D
4. With reference to the Agreement at the UNFCCC Meeting in Paris in 2015, which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2016)
1. The Agreement was signed by all the member countries of the UN and it will go into effect in 2017
2. The Agreement aims to limit greenhouse gas emissions so that the rise in average global temperature by the end of this century does not exceed 2°C or even 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
3. Developed countries acknowledged their historical responsibility in global warming and committed to donate $ 1000 billion a year from 2020 to help developing countries to cope with climate change.
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
A. 1 and 3 only     B.  2 only        C. 2 and 3 only        D. 1, 2 and 3
Answer: B
5. A new type of El Nino called El Nino Modoki appeared in the news. In this context, consider the following statements: (UPSC 2010) 
1. Normal El Nino forms in the Central Pacific ocean whereas El Nino Modoki forms in the Eastern Pacific ocean.
2. Normal El Nino results in diminished hurricanes in the Atlantic ocean but El Nino Modoki results in a greater number of hurricanes with greater frequency.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct? 
A. 1 only       B. 2 only        C. Both 1 and 2             D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: B
6. La Nina is suspected to have caused recent floods in Australia. How is La Nina different from El Nino? (UPSC 2011) 
1. La Nina is characterized by unusually cold ocean temperature in the equatorial Indian Ocean whereas El Nino is characterized by unusually warm ocean temperature in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.
2. El Nino has an adverse effect on the south-west monsoon of India, but La Nina has no effect on the monsoon climate.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct? 
A. 1 only        B. 2 only         C. Both 1 and 2           D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: D
7. Consider the following statements:  (MPSC 2017)
a. La Nina is a little girl.
b. During the time of La Nina cold water in the ocean rises to the surface.
c. La Nina strengthens the Indian monsoon.
d. During the time of El Nino, trade winds weaken, and warm water moves east in the ocean. Which of the above statements is/are correct? 
A. Only a and b          B. a, b and c         C. Only b and c           D. All of the above
Answer: D
8. With reference to Ocean Mean Temperature (OMT), which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2020)
1. OMT is measured up to a depth of 26°C isotherm which is 129 meters in the south-western Indian Ocean during January-March.
2. OMT collected during January-March can be used in assessing whether the amount of rainfall in monsoon will be less or more than a certain long-term mean.
Select the correct answer using the code given below: 
A. 1 only        B. 2 only              C. Both 1 and 2            D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: B
9. With reference to 'Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD)' sometimes mentioned in the news while forecasting Indian monsoon which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2017)
1. IOD phenomenon is characterised by a difference in sea surface temperature between tropical Western Indian Ocean and tropical Eastern Pacific Ocean.
2. An IOD phenomenon can influence an EI Nino's impact on the monsoon.
Select the correct answer using the code given below:  
A. 1 only    B. 2 only          C. Both 1 and 2           D. Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: B
10. "EL Nino" refers to a temperature anomaly in the ________ ocean. (NTPC 2017)
A. Indian            B. Pacific        C. Southern             D. Atlantic
Answer: B
11. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change recently published the draft Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) Notification, in 2020. Which of the following statements is correct about EIA? (Punjab Civil Service 2020)
1. It predicts the effect of a proposed industrial/infrastructural project on the environment.
2. It prevents the proposed activity/project from being approved without proper oversight or taking adverse consequences into account.
3. It compares various alternatives for a project and seeks to identify the one which represents the best combination of economic and environmental costs and benefits.
4. As per the new notification, Coal and non-Coal mineral prospecting and solar photovoltaic projects do not need prior environmental clearance.
Select the correct answer using the code given below:
A. Only 1 and 2
B. Only 2, 3 and 4
C. Only 1, 2 and 3
D. Only 1, 2 and 4
Answer: D
12. In the context of India’s preparation for Climate -Smart Agriculture, consider the following statements: (UPSC 2021)
1. The ‘Climate-Smart Village’ approach in India is part of a project led by the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), an international research program.
2. The project of CCAFS is carried out under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural (CGIAR) headquartered in France.
3. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in India is one of the CGIAR’s research centers.
Which of the statements given above is correct?
(a) 1 and 2 only                (b) 2 and 3 only              (c) 1 and 3 only                      (d) 1, 2 and 3
Answer: D
13. Consider the following statements: (UPSC 2012)
1. The duration of the monsoon decreases from southern India to northern India.
2. The amount of annual rainfall in the northern plains of India decreases from east to west. Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 only          B. 2 only           C. Both 1 and 2          D.  Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: C
14. Consider the following statements:  (UPSC 2017) 
1. In India, the Himalayas are spread over five States only.
2. Western Ghats are spread over five States only.
3. Pulicat Lake is spread over two States only.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
A. 1 and 2 only        B. 3 only            C. 2 and 3 only          D. 1 and 3 only
Answer: B

15. Which of the following statements in respect of landslides are correct? (NDA 2022)

1. These occur only on gentle slopes during rain.
2. They generally occur in clay-rich soil.
3. Earthquakes trigger landslides.

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

A. 1 and 2         B. 2 and 3            C. 1 and 3              D. 1, 2 and 3

 Answer: B

16. On the planet earth, most of the freshwater exists as ice caps and glaciers. Out of the remaining freshwater, the largest proportion (UPSC 2013)

(a) is found in the atmosphere as moisture and clouds
(b) is found in freshwater lakes and rivers
(c) exists as groundwater
(d) exists as soil moisture

Answer: C

17. Among the following, which one is the least water-efficient crop? (UPSC 2021) 

A. Sugarcane      B. Sunflower     C. Pearl millet     D.  Red gram

Answer: A

18. With reference to 'Initiative for Nutritional Security through Intensive Millets Promotion, which of the following statements is/are correct? (UPSC 2016) 
1. This initiative aims to demonstrate the improved production and post-harvest technologies and to demonstrate value addition techniques, in an integrated manner, with a cluster approach. 2. Poor, small, marginal and tribal farmers have a larger stake in this scheme.
3. An important objective of the scheme is to encourage farmers of commercial crops to shift to millet cultivation by offering them free kits of critical inputs of nutrients and micro-irrigation equipment.
Select the correct answer using the code given below.
A. 1 only     B.  2 and 3 only    C. 1 and 2 only         D. 1, 2 and 3
Answer: C
Source: The Hindu

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