India 'faces worst drought in years'

India is facing its worst drought in nearly 40 years because of a once-in-a-generation shortfall in summer rains, weather experts warned today.

Rainfall during the monsoon season which ended today was 23% below average, with the north-west states of Punjab and Haryana, the main producers of wheat and rice, getting 36% less rainfall than usual, said Avadesh Kumar, a director at the Indian Meteorological Department.

“Going by the statistics available so far, India’s 2009 monsoon rainfall has been the worst since 1972,” Mr Kumar said.

Drought has been declared in at least 44% of India’s districts, according to media reports.

Economists worry the drought will hit the greater economy over the next half year, as declining harvests reduce demand for transportation and storage, affect exports and domestic trade, and reduce incomes for hundreds of millions of Indians who rely on farming for their livelihoods.

In some areas there was not enough rain for rice to be sown, and poor rainfall where it was sown made the crops fail, Mr Kumar said.

The situation would have been worse without a spate of late showers in the past four weeks, he said.

Last year, India’s economy expanded by an annual rate of 7.8% during the April-June quarter. Growth for the fiscal year ending March 31 skidded to 6.7%, its worst since 2003, according to the government’s Central Statistical Organisation. From 2003-08, India’s economic growth averaged 8.8% a year.

The Reserve Bank of India is predicting 6.0% economic growth for the current fiscal year.

India’s economy picked up pace earlier this year as government spending helped overcome the worst of the global downturn.

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