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India's economic growth seen lower as rains play truant
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (AFP) Aug 4, 2012

India's economic growth could slip to near six percent this year with the country facing the spectre of its third drought in a decade, a top government policymaker says.

In the last few months, the outlook for once-booming India has worsened with high inflation, steep interest rates, a ballooning deficit, nosediving business confidence, a falling currency and now growing worry of drought.

"If we factor in that agriculture which will not be strong ... (growth) will be closer to six percent" for the fiscal year to March 2013, Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia told reporters in New Delhi.

His forecast, delivered Friday, is down from the 6.5 percent expansion India notched up last year, and far below the close to 10 percent expansion seen during a good part of the past decade.

It comes comes as private economists also pare their growth estimates for Asia's third-largest economy, citing concern about "deficient" monsoon rains that sweep India from June to September.

A survey of economists and industry leaders by the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India, released Saturday, said the weak monsoon and a deteriorating global situation were expected to cut growth to between 6.0 and 6.3 percent.

Goldman Sachs economist Tushar Poddar forecast in a client's note even lower expansion of 5.7 percent.

The various projections are far below the 7.6 percent expansion initially seen in the Congress-led government's March budget and the 6.5 percent growth forecast by India's central bank earlier in the week.

While around six percent growth is still much faster than most other nations, the left-leaning government says much more rapid expansion is needed to lift hundreds of millions of Indians out of crushing poverty.

The weather office has forecast the rains will be "15 percent deficient" during the monsoon period which would spell drought.

A countrywide drought is declared if rainfall drops below 90 percent of average annual levels. In 2009 and in 2002, India was hit by drought, bringing misery to farmers and driving up food prices.

Already "the drought in Maharashtra (state) is the worst in last 20 years, the Gujarat drought is the worst in last 25 years and the Karnataka drought is the worst in last 40 years," Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh said.

Farming's contribution to gross domestic product has fallen from 50 percent in the 1950s to some 15 percent but remains key by supporting 700 million rural Indians and fuelling demand for everything from TVs to motorcycles and gold.

Wary of a voter backlash in general elections due in 2014, the government has promised to spend more to help people in "drought-affected" areas -- making it far tougher to curb its swollen fiscal deficit.

The need for stimulus "on the back of persistent deficiency in the monsoon will turn the government's fiscal arithmetic awry," predicted Shubhada Rao, chief economist at India's Yes Bank.

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Climate change to blame for extreme heat: NASA scientist
Washington (AFP) Aug 4, 2012 - Human-driven climate change is to blame for a series of increasingly hot summers and the situation is already worse than was expected just two decades ago, a top NASA scientist said on Saturday.

James Hansen, who directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, wrote in the Washington Post that even his "grim" predictions of a warming future, delivered before the US Senate in 1988, were too weak.

"I have a confession to make: I was too optimistic," Hansen wrote.

"My projections about increasing global temperature have been proved true. But I failed to fully explore how quickly that average rise would drive an increase in extreme weather."

Hansen and his colleagues have published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences an analysis of the past six decades of global temperatures, revealing a "stunning increase in the frequency of extremely hot summers," he wrote.

Describing "deeply troubling ramifications for not only our future but also for our present," Hansen said the analysis is based not on models or predictions, "but actual observations of weather events and temperatures that have happened."

The peer-reviewed study shows that global temperature has been steadily rising due to a warming climate, about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) in the past century, and that extreme events are more frequent.

The study echoes the findings of international research released last month that climbing greenhouse gas emissions boosted the odds of severe droughts, floods and heat waves in 2011.

Hansen said the European heat wave of 2003, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and massive droughts in Texas and Oklahoma last year can each be attributed to climate change.

"And once the data are gathered in a few weeks' time, it's likely that the same will be true for the extremely hot summer the United States is suffering through right now," he said.

Another well-known US scientist and former skeptic of global warming, Richard Muller, last week made a very public turnaround, saying that a close look at the data had convinced him that his beliefs were unfounded.

"Call me a converted skeptic," wrote Muller, a professor at the University of California Berkeley, in an op-ed in the New York Times.

"I'm now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause."

Hansen, too, while being a long-time proponent of humans as the main cause of global warming though pollution and fossil fuel consumption, expressed his increasing certainty that other causes could not be blamed.

"The odds that natural variability created these extremes are minuscule, vanishingly small. To count on those odds would be like quitting your job and playing the lottery every morning to pay the bills," he wrote.


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UCLA research makes possible rapid assessment of plant drought tolerance
Los Angeles CA (SPX) Aug 02, 2012
UCLA life scientists, working with colleagues in China, have discovered a new method to quickly assess plants' drought tolerance. The method works for many diverse species growing around the world. The research, published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution, may revolutionize the ability to survey plant species for their ability to withstand drought, said senior author Lawren Sack, a ... read more

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