Fiji Time: 12:41 AM on Sunday 18 March

Fiji Times Logo

/ Front page / Features

Droughts and rain

Dr Sushil Sharma
Saturday, November 11, 2017

Fiji has had its fair share of droughts over the years. Some have been extremely severe and quite traumatic for our nation and its people, in so far as their livelihood, day to day provisions for their livestock, bathing, washing, and cropping, in the main are concerned, especially for our rural dwellers.

Droughts over our nation have been most pronounced on the dry zones of our larger islands on the leeward side of the islands, as the moisture laden southeast trade winds dump most of the rain on the south eastern slopes of the larger islands of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu in the cool dry seasons from May to October annually.

The six-months of dry season only contributes about 25 per cent of the annual rainfall totals over Fiji with the rest 75 per cent falling in the other wet season from November to April.

Upper atmospheric transient wave like features, of varying amplitudes and effects arrive in an irregular 4-7 weeks interval over our regions in the dry season.

These features move in a west to east direction laterally, providing upwards of 50 -120 millimetres of rain within a very short 12-24 hours of very vigorous cloud and thunderstorm activity, after which the weather clears again till the next episode some weeks away.

These upper wave types of disturbances maybe the only features to provide rains over the tropics in the dry seasons, but these waves can be irregular and their distribution in an area and temporal manner, quite unpredictable. This can either enhance or suppress our seasonal rains.

Droughts have more than often become a national issue. I have noted that our National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) has dealt with droughts with grave laxity and hardly ever issued any official announcement of an official drought for the nation.

Our national apparatus appears to be more concerned with the effects of the declaration of an official drought for the nation on our economy, the tourism sector and many other concerns, rather than the welfare of our citizens and the fact that citizens may benefit from emergency aid and help after its declaration.

I have noted that for the NDMO, drought issues are almost like non-issues, where this organization has never taken any proactive stance, even in the presence of meteorological statistics, and often have become the butt of joke for the nation.

Our common citizens appear to be more clever and educated to understand the meaning of hydrological and meteorological droughts, and no longer trust our authorities to do the right thing, even if they knew the science.

The drought in 2017 has also been grave and citizens have once again, been expected to just ride out this grave period of below or well below average rainfall, waiting for nature's relief to arrive in November.

Fiji, for the past three to four years, has had below average rains annually. We have entered the dry seasons with great rainfall deficits. A lot of rain would often fall in a very short-period, and waste away as run-off into streams and into the sea. The problem in the tropics with high intensity or high amounts of rainfall in a particular season or even rainfall event is the lack of adequate means to store water.

Even dry season rainfall once every four to six weeks through upper tropospheric low pressure systems, can be quite high with 24-hour falls at times between 50-120 millimetres. However this huge amount of rain is hard to collect and people living in outlying islands often cannot store this due to lack of tanks or infrastructure support to "catch and store" this rain for long term use.

Even if we do the next rain may not come for the following four to six weeks and thus the cycle continues.

This dry season sensation is normally not that apparent if we are coming out of a very good wet season with heavy rainfall due to oversupply of water into dams, rivers, springs and water tables. This has sadly been lacking for the past 3-4 years.

We emerged into this year's dry season with great water deficit conditions. As it is, the dry season traditionally only supplies 25 per cent of the annual rainfall totals, and thus it is hard to compensate for this type of deficit in the dry season, with an impending drought.

Fiji is presently in drought — an extreme form that is called a hydrological type of drought which impacts on the ability of supply of water within the atmosphere and earth system, within a particular location, country or region.

Droughts come and then come the rains and the cycle continues in an irregular fashion depending on many other feedback mechanisms of the climate drivers in our universe.

During hydrological droughts, the landscape will not necessarily look brown parched and fully "burnt out".

People with a non-rural lifestyles and not used to the hardship of the farms, wells, use of rivers and streams may often not notice the drought unless the water in their urban city kitchen tap goes off.

One does not have to see and experience images of parched desert like dunes of Africa; hungry thin looking malnutrition population, or vast desert like scenes, to experience a drought scenario.

Below average to well below average rainfall, that is drier than normal conditions were experienced in Fiji during the entire 2017.

Dry conditions were much more enhanced and severe, and continued to persist in the Western Division in 2017.

Areas between Nadi to Rakiraki corridor received well below average rainfall, where rainfall and the number of rain days remained minimal.

Nadi International Airport, Lautoka mill, Rarawai, Penang mill and Dobuilevu stations, all tucked in the north-western dry zone sugar cane belt of Viti Levu received rains well below average with only 28 per cent, 24 per cent, 16 per cent, 6 per cent and 28 per cent of the average normal rainfall for October. Rains over Viwa, Yasawa, Nausori Airport, Koronivia, Laucala Bay, Savusavu, Seaqaqa, Matei Airfield and Lakeba remained 40-68 per cent below average for October also.

It appears that the prayers of the farmers were heard loudly and clearly (Praying for Rain by Felix Chaudhary in FT 2/11/17) as the very next day the heavens opened up on Friday, November 3, 2017 and heralded the arrival of the wet season 2017-2018 rains over the nation, soon after the newspaper had reported that more than 20 cows were reported to have died and sugar cane and other crops had withered as farmers in the Western Division continued to pray for rain to fall.

The newspaper also reported that some parts of the division had not experienced any rain for about seven months, while others had received very light showers at times but not enough to make any real difference.

The drought had great impacts here, where it was reported that cattle we left to eat mud, to survive, according to media reports from farmers.

In Lautoka I heard some folks had just done the Indar pooja — prayers (pooja) to the Hindu God (Indar) god of rains. This was something I had witnessed as a child in our villages, many times during severe drought over our nation.

It appears that the prayers were heard as I walked into the heavy phenomenal downpour after work at 5pm on Friday, November 3, 2017 when the rains arrived, which almost heralded a celebration — but no-one bothered to take a note.

I let the rain soak right down to my skin, with a feeling that it had been a long time since the last time I had felt rain on my skin.

I thought of a rain bath and my adrenalin flowed even more. The sudden mix of dry dirt and soil with pelting heavy drops, and the musty smell of the sudden grog-like mix, and the sudden run-off of dirt and grunge, brought child-like memories to play with mud.

The rain bath was rejuvenating and I felt a renewal of my spirits. The distant thunder and the heavy overcast conditions with pelting heavy rain drops were gratifying indeed and the rain lasted till the entire weekend and onto the following Monday.

Droughts and rain — it certainly did herald hope and it surely looked as if the prayers were surely being heard in the heavens and the Gods were very happy and pleased, had surely reciprocated in kind to our people — all those that prayed and to those that did not, either.

* Dr Sushil K Sharma is an associate professor of meteorology at FNU. Views expressed are his and not that this newspaper or FNU.

Fiji Times Front Page Thumbnail

Kaila Front Page ThumbnailFiji Times & Kaila Frontpage PDF Downloads

Use the free Acrobat Reader to view.

Code Inward TTs Outward TTs
CAD 0.65100.6320
JPY 53.691350.6913
GBP 0.35690.3489
EUR 0.40560.3936
NZD 0.69210.6591
AUD 0.64290.6179
USD 0.50070.4837



Exchange Rate updated on 16th, March, 2018

Today's Most Read Stories

  1. 'Forced to go'
  2. Man released on strict bail
  3. Speaker orders Nawaikula to withdraw accusation
  4. Former inmates raise concerns
  5. Accommodation woes
  6. A-G clarifies ownership
  7. Seaweed farming costly for women
  8. State to upgrade aging infrastructure
  9. Solar energy project
  10. Motion to review Act defeated

Top Stories this Week

  1. Sims' 100th game Thursday (15 Mar)
  2. Cessna heroes Monday (12 Mar)
  3. Picking up the pieces Tuesday (13 Mar)
  4. Men urged to marry Thursday (15 Mar)
  5. 'Forced to go' Saturday (17 Mar)
  6. Man to appear in high court for wife's death Monday (12 Mar)
  7. A star in the making Thursday (15 Mar)
  8. Baravilala's ode to Cessna victims Thursday (15 Mar)
  9. The faith Monday (12 Mar)
  10. 7s hunt Tuesday (13 Mar)