Climatic Change

, Volume 151, Issue 1, pp 17–28 | Cite as

Risk and the South Asian monsoon

  • Sunil S. AmrithEmail author


South Asia’s dependence on the monsoon has always been a source of economic uncertainty. This paper examines the history of ways of thinking about the monsoon and risk, focusing on India. The science of meteorology, and a growing interest in ways to mitigate monsoon risk, developed in response to major famines. Piecemeal interventions, including a series of canals and small dams, began India’s hydraulic transformation. By the middle of the twentieth century, massive hydraulic engineering emerged as the dominant solution to controlling the monsoon’s risks. Large dams account for the largest share of government expenditure in independent India, but since the 1960s, intensive and mostly unregulated groundwater exploitation has played a greater role in meeting irrigation needs. The expansion in India’s irrigated area and an expansion in food production. But this has come at a cost: millions have been displaced by dam construction; groundwater exploitation has reached unsustainable levels, and has had an effect on regional climate.



The research for this paper received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC, Grant Agreement 284053, which I held at Birkbeck College, University of London from 2012 to 2015.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of South Asian StudiesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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