Dry monsoon in India

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MARCO WERMAN: West of Myanmar, in India, it's the height of monsoon season right now. There should be lots of rain across the country � but this monsoon isn't living up to expectations. Rainfall is way down, and parts of India are looking at drought conditions. That's not good news for farmers, as the BBC's Tinku Ray reports from Delhi.

TINKU RAY: Every year around this time, farmers in India look to the skies and pray that the rain gods will give them a good monsoon. 60 percent of all Indian farmers don't use irrigation, so their lives and livelihoods depend on plentiful rain. But the monsoons are unpredictable. The northern state of Uttar Pradesh is one of the worst hit by drought this year. Farmer Shital Prasad, in the village of Teherauli, doesn't know what he'll do if there's no rain soon. �If it doesn't rain, then things will only worsen,� he says. �No one can do anything. It's all in God's hands. If it rains, then things will improve. Otherwise, it will remain bad. I don't know what to do,� Shital says. Another farmer, Kishori Lai Tiwari, from Assati in Uttar Pradesh, complains that many of the young men from his village have left to find work in the cities because their crops have failed again and again. Kishori Lai says, �80 percent of the people in this area have gone out to find work, locking their homes and leaving their land. There's not even enough water for the animals. Many have died in the last month,� he says. Kishori Lai Tiwari has been forced to sell all his machinery and is also thinking of leaving for the big city to find a job. Up to 70 percent of Indians are dependent on farm incomes. The situation is grim in many parts of northern India, where the majority of the country's rice and wheat are grown -- and it's getting worse. LS Rathore, the head of the country's agricultural meteorology office, says even if there are heavy rains now, some crops cannot be saved.

LS RATHORE: Some crops � like for example, sugar cane � because of a very longer dry spell, with temperatures much above the normal, has caused a lot of damage in terms of both growth and development of the cane. And therefore, this is a kind of irreversible process, so it is definitely going to hamper the productivity.

RAY: Rice is a very thirsty crop. In the northern state of Punjab, despite the lack of rain, farmers have been able to irrigate some of their lands from deep wells. This is leading to a more worrying problem � a rapidly falling water table. Captain Chanan Singh Sidhu is a farmer in Punjab who took me on a drive around the countryside to see just how dry the lands are.

CHANAN SINGH SIDHU: We haven't seen rain for last 15 days to 20 days here in this area, and that's why the water level has gone down so much. It has gone 30 feet down, and that's why pumps have failed. Now, we have to lower the tubewells further 30 feet to get the water from them.

MUKHERJEE: In 1987, this country managed this century's worst drought. We transported drinking water by railways. We organized fodder for the cattle.

RAY: India's finance minister is confident everything is under control, and there's no need to hit the panic button yet. But just this week, a report based on NASA data said that groundwater levels in northern India have fallen 20 percent more than expected. The main reason?

Excessive pumping. And this could threaten a major food and water crisis, the study warns. Failure of the monsoons also has wider implication, according to economist D.H. Pai Panindikar.

D.H. PAI PANINDIKAR: Farmers have less income. There is less production, so less income generation. Then, because there is shortage of production, there is less availability in the markets and so higher prices; less exports; and shortage of electricity means also. It impacts also on industrial production.

RAY: All this is not good news for the government, which had hoped to maintain economic growth at 6 percent, despite the worldwide recession. So the failure of the monsoon probably means a lower GDP for India. At the end of the day, it's here in the markets where the average Indian is feeling the impact most. Food prices have risen by 30 to 40 percent, so that means my family grocery bill has gone from about $25 dollars a week to almost $50. And with no sign of rain, there's little chance of the prices coming down soon. For The World, I'm Tinku Ray in Delhi.

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