Impacts of Mega-droughts on Water and Food Security in the Indo-Gangetic Plains: A Paleoclimate Scenario Analysis

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 5:12 PM
Tingju Zhu1, Gauthier Pitois1, Claudia Ringler1, Dingbao Wang2 and Mark W. Rosegrant1, (1)International Food Policy Research Institute, Environment and Production Technology Division, Washington, DC, United States, (2)University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL, United States
Spanning over Pakistan, northern India, Nepal, and Bangladesh, the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) is the home of several hundred million people and the “bread basket” for much of South Asia. The flat terrain, fertile soils, and favorable climate of the IGP make it agriculturally productive. However prolonged droughts caused by consecutive monsoon failures can seriously affect crop production and social wellbeing, in particular for the eastern part of the plains where agriculture remains largely rain-fed. Severe droughts were observed in the IGP historically, and recent paleoclimate studies reveal that more severe and long-lasting “mega-droughts” had happened in the distant past. Agricultural losses from major droughts can dramatically affect food systems and increase the vulnerability of resource-poor people given the delicate balance between food supply and demand under growing natural resource scarcity. To estimate the potential impacts of “mega-droughts” on the water and food systems in the IGP, we develop worst-case drought scenarios through inverse modeling of tree-ring-based PDSI reconstruction that covers the period 1300-1899 (A.D.), and analyze these historic mega-drought scenarios using IFPRI’s IMPACT global water and food projections model. The base year of the IMPACT model is parameterized using socioeconomic and engineering data that reflect today’s water management and infrastructure, agricultural technologies, population, income, and market institutions. The base year simulation is validated against observations to ensure model fidelity. Anticipated changes of the above factors in the future out to 2050 are specified using demographic and economic growth projections and literature data. Model simulation results represent the consequences of mega-droughts in the IGP given technological and socioeconomic conditions of today and in the future. We also explore policy options for increasing the resilience of water and food systems in the IGP, through scenario analysis, and recommendations are made concerning investment in water infrastructure and agricultural technologies, in addition to trade policies.