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Green Carpet For Pokhran’s Desert

Updated: September 18, 2010 1:06 pm

Tourists visiting the historic city of Jaisalmer and the border district of Barmer would be surprised to see green patches in the Thar desert because of the heavy rains that lashed the Thar desert in last one month. The Thar desert which has faced drought and famine-like condition for centuries has been experiencing heavy rains leaving weather observers baffled with more than normal monsoon, especially in Thar desert comprising Jaisalmer, Barmer and Jalore districts.

                The rains this year have been heavy and plenty. So much so that the low-lying villages near Pokhran

desert in Jaisalmer district, the site of two nuclear tests, witnessed flood. The Pokhran firing range where the nuclear tests were conducted and the range that serves as an ideal test range for armaments is now covered with green shrubs.

                “Pokhran, around 110 km from Jaisalmer city, has been witnessing record rains this year. Villages around Pokhran has recorded 458 mm rainfall in just three-four days. At least, three to four feet water stands in 24 villages in Jasialmer district. Over 100 kachcha house have been washed away. The floods caused the death of six persons and heavy loss of life of cattle. The last highest figure was 421 mm rainfall in year 2008.” said RN Meena, district collector of Jaisalmer. Pokhran witnessed rains for a full week and several villages where anicuts were built to collect rain water washed away because of the heavy downpour. Pokhran actually means “the place of five mirages” and witnesses temperatures as high as 50 degree centigrade in summers.

                In June this year, cyclone Phet completely inundated village Lathi near Pokhran and 300 villagers had to be evacuated and 70 houses were washed away. Rajasthan Water Resources Department figures say abnormal rainfall i.e above 60 per cent and above has been witnessed in three districts of Barmer, Jaisalmer and Jalore. And excess rainfall of 20 to 59 per cent in Bikaner, Churu, Hanumangrah and Sikar. District collector Meena, said the last few days of heavy downpour has left the district flooded. As the area is sandy and rocky, the water is clogged and doesn’t drain easily leading to water collection.

                Scientists are confused as the Thar desert, which basks in sunshine for a yearly average of 320 days, has suddenly been witnessing heavy rains and flash floods since 2006. An uninterrupted weeklong downpour in August, 2006 in Barmer caused flash floods, the worst in at least a century. The unususal event not only caused extensive damage to life and property, it also rendered homeless over a lakh of people in Jaisalmer and Barmer districts. It actually shattered the rhythm of desert life as communities used to drought and water shortage all their life, were suddenly having to deal with heavy rains and floods.

                After the surprise flooding of Barmer and other arid parts of western Rajasthan, scientists believe all this water will change not only the look of this desert region but also its ecology. The floods had created at least three large lakes—in Kawas, Malwa and Uttarlai villages in Barmer district, and each covering 7-8 sq km. Experts involved in conservation and water harvesting estimate that there are more than 20 new water bodies in the Barmer-Jodhpur region. Several water channels or natural drains have also shown up after the flooding. Floods are always bad for sandy regions because when water falls on the desert, it mixes with the sand and makes water saline and makes it unfit to drink.

                However, experts say, what happened in Barmer in 2006 and what has been happening this year in Barmer, Jaisalmer and Jalore districts on the south-western region of the state is nothing out of the ordinary. Rajasthan meteorological director SS Singh says: “There is nothing unusual in heavy rains in the Thar desert. Rainfall has been increasing in the desert since 1973, though marginally.” But what scientists say has made a difference is the decreasing rain spells in Rajasthan. As a result, the intensity of showers is greater. There were heavy floods in Jodhpur in 1979 and 1981. They say that given the trend of weather patterns, there could be floods in Rajasthan every third or fourth year.

                And this is what has been happening in the last few years as can be seen from the figures. Total rainfall recorded from June 1 to July 31 in 2010 for Barmer is 205.44 mm, a deviation of 96 per cent from the normal 104.90 mm, for Jaislamer the figure is 179.30, a deviation of 151 per cent and Jalore recorded 327.08 mm, a deviation of 69 per cent.

By Prakash Bhandari from Jaipur

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