What Is El Nino & How Does It Affect Indian Economy?

El Nino effect in India

You might have experienced above-normal rainfall in India over the last four years. But the condition is not going to be the same in 2023. Why? You may ask. Because of El Nino! Sounds familiar, no? We experienced it in 2018 and 2015 too. Poor monsoons, low food production, inflation, low electricity production, etc. are some of its common signs. This year too, WMO (World Meteorological Organization) warned about the development of El Nino in India. But what exactly is it? What is the El Nino effect in India and its economy? You will get information on all about it in this article.

El Nino effect in India

Let’s begin

Climate Patterns in the Pacific Ocean- El Nino & La Nina

Before jumping into the El Nino effect in India, you need to understand some basics of climate patterns like Normal Trade winds, El Nino, and La Nina. All three originate in the Pacific Ocean. During normal conditions, trade winds blow from west (South America) to east (Asia) along the equator. As a result, a temperature gradient is created with warmer water in the west (America) and cooler water in the east (Asia). 

El Nino and La Nina are two opposing climate patterns that hamper the normal condition. They make up a cyclical process known as “El Nino Southern Oscillation.” Consequently, both of them heavily impact global weather and economic conditions. Usually, El Nino occurs more frequently than La Nina. We will describe them in detail in the next sections.

What is El Nino?

Impact of El Nino on global weather

El Nino refers to a band of warmer water flowing from west to east in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. During an El Nino, the trade winds weaken and flow in the reverse direction causing the warm water to slash backward toward the east. This causes changes in the sea-surface temperature in the central and eastern pacific regions. This, in turn, affects weather patterns all around the world. As a result-

  • In the west, an El Nino brings wetter than normal conditions. Due to this heavy rainfall occurs especially in the southern part of the USA.
  • In the east (Asia), El Nino brings hotter weather conditions that lead to deficient rainfall. Therefore, we see droughts and lower rainfall in India.

What is La Nina?

Impact of La Nina

La Nina is also called anti-El Nino. As the term suggests, La Nina has the opposite effect of El Nino. La Nina occurs when a band of cooler water flows from west to east in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. During La Nina, trade winds are stronger than normal. As a result-

  • In the western pacific region, La Nina brings hot weather leading to deficient rainfall in the west.
  • In the eastern pacific region, La Nina brings wetter conditions. Due to this heavy rainfall occurs in Asia, including India.

Note: In El Nino, the Indian monsoon weakens leading to dried conditions and lower rainfall. Whereas, in La Nina, the monsoon in India gets stronger leading to humid conditions and excess rainfall.

El Nino Effect in India

Now coming to the main part- how adversely El Nino impacts the Indian monsoons. We have already described how monsoons are beneficial to the Indian economy in a previous article. El Nino affects multiple sectors of the Indian Economy.

El Nino effect in India

Now we will throw light upon the El Nino effect in India. 

  1. Agriculture: El Niño can cause droughts in India, which can have a significant impact on agriculture. If the monsoon rains are delayed or weaker than usual, crops such as rice, wheat, and pulses can be affected, leading to lower yields and higher prices. A decreased agricultural output can hurt rural incomes and food security. Lower food production increases inflation. CPI (Consumer Price Index) goes higher with the increased price of food and vegetables.
  2. Economy: Due to the rise in inflation, RBI increases interest rates. Eventually, the loan payments become difficult, piling more on the cost of living. Also, it lowers GDP growth. If you analyze the GDP growth from the last 40 years, in non-El Nino periods it was 6.6%. But during the El Nino periods, the GDP growth rate dipped to 5%.
  3. Energy: El Niño can lead to changes in wind patterns, which can affect wind power generation in some regions of India. This can lead to higher prices for electricity, as thermal power plants are used more to compensate for the lower wind power output. Also, El Niño significantly affects hydroelectric power generation, which is an important source of energy in India. Decreased rainfall can lead to lower water levels in reservoirs, which can impact the amount of power that can be generated.
  4. Fisheries: El Niño can affect ocean currents and temperatures. In the eastern Pacific Ocean region, the thickness of the top warm- layer increases, preventing the cold and nutrient-rich deep water from reaching the surface. The fish depend on the cold waters for food due to the presence of nutrients. This impacts fish stocks in the Indian Ocean too. This can have a significant impact on the livelihoods of fishermen, particularly in coastal regions.
  5. Tourism: El Niño can also affect the weather patterns in India, leading to changes in tourist arrivals and revenues. Cultural tourism is famous in India, especially in the southern part of the country. If the monsoon season is weaker or delayed, it can lead to a reduction in domestic and international tourists.
  6. Increased imports: If India experiences a decline in agricultural production due to El Niño, the country may need to increase its imports of food and other agricultural products. This can lead to higher costs and a trade deficit, which can negatively impact the country’s economy. Also, it can lead to the depreciation of the Indian Rupee.
  7. Impact on industries: El Niño can also impact various industries in India, such as textiles and construction, which rely on agricultural inputs like cotton and cement. A decline in agricultural production can lead to higher input costs and lower production, which can negatively impact these industries. Also, it can heavily impact the manufacturing sector and factories due to the lack of electricity.

Will there be an El Nino in India?

Unfortunately yes. There will be a severe El Nino in India!

El Nino effect in India

As per the recent reports on the Indian climate, we will face severe heat waves from March to May at 3-5 degrees above normal. The meteorological department of India as well as the world predicted that India will experience a weak monsoon. El Nino is the primary reason for it. We faced El Nino in 2002, 2009, 2014, 2015, and 2018. From 2018 onwards we faced La Nina which resulted in excessive rainfall for the last four years. But El Nino hits back in 2023 again!  

How long does El Nino last?

Generally, El Nino lasts for 9-12 months. You will see the episodes of El Nino every 3-5 years. Do you know, the worst cases of El Nino may last up to 2 years too! 

Final Words

Do you know, since 1950, we have faced nearly 13 droughts in India? Out of them, 10 droughts were caused by El Nino. So, we should not take the warning of WMO lightly. The Union Health Ministry has already issued a warning of heat waves in the upcoming summers. Although the abnormal increase in temperature will impact the agriculture, industrial, and tourism sector. But, we are prepared to face the scenario. We have numerous reservoirs, a robust irrigation system, and well-planned crop cultivation. Apart from that, the Rabi cultivation of this year was good enough to minimize the El Nino effect in India.

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Published By: Supti Nandi
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