Home » Environment News » #DroughtWatch: 6 reasons why this is a national calamity

#DroughtWatch: 6 reasons why this is a national calamity

Nihar Gokhale and Vishakh Unnikrishnan | Updated on: 22 April 2016, 16:34 IST

Recently, Yogita Desai, an 11-year old girl, died of dehydration and heart attack on her fifth round of fetching water from a handpump 500 metres away from her village in Maharashtra\'s Beed District.

Can we save the remaining 33,61,89,541 persons affected by drought?

That\'s the official figure for those who are drought-affected in India, excluding states such as Gujarat which are yet to share information.

It\'s hard to remember the last time 33 crore people were simultaneously affected by any phenomenon. Unlike disasters, there is no single flashpoint for droughts. That makes it harder to perceive.

Also, it is mistakenly seen as just an agrarian issue. Go throught the figures and the stories of struggle for water, and it is clear that this drought is nothing short of a national calamity.

Here\'s why:

It's everywhere

  • In a recent filing before the Supreme Court, the central government said 10 states have declared drought.
  • 2.5 lakh villages - 40% of India's 6 lakh-plus villages affected.
  • That's about 33.6 crore people persons directly affected - about a third of India's population.
  • In many of the states, drought is the biggest concern: At least 90% districts in Karnataka, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Jharkhand are drought-affected.

In the rest, the percentage ranges from 57% (Rajasthan) to 76% (Andhra Pradesh).

Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, has 75% of its districts under drought, affecting 9.8 crore people. As a separate country, they would have trumped Philippines to be be the world's 12th most populous.

Little water left

March was the consecutive 11th hottest month. This means all 10 months before it broke the previous month's record for being the hottest. April seems to be no different, nor will May be.

And our water is fast disappearing. Our reservoirs are filled to just 22% capacity; down from 33% last year. With heat, the water is fast being used up or evaporating.

Between April 7 and 13, we lost 2 billion cubic metres (BCM) water - 12% of all the water we lost the preceding year. Meanwhile, our groundwater levels are dipping and rivers are running dry.

Education and healthcare are suffering

Droughts don't affect farmers alone. They affects education, healthcare and infrastructure services.

Marathwada's Latur, for example, is facing a public health emergency. Acute water shortage has led to around 160 clinics cutting down on planned surgeries, admitting only emergency cases.

The largest government hospital in Jharkhand's Deoghar district has no water in toilets. As a result, even patients on bed rest make trips back home to use the toilet.

In Odisha, schools are either closed or classes are stalled. Students of a primary school in Pathalkudwa are sent out to collect water from neighboring households the moment they reach school. A bulk of the collected water is then used in preparing mid-day meals while the remaining water is used for drinking.

Rural women have to work harder, longer

As water becomes scarce, the job of fetching it becomes harder. And in India, most of it is done by women and girls like Yogita Desai. In Karnataka's Tarihal village, women have to climb 50 feet down in a well to fetch water.

According to a news report, a woman in Telangana's Nalgoda district is four months pregnant, has already suffered a miscarriage once, but still has to walk 15 minutes every day to a well.

Research conducted by the National Commission for Women show that on an average, a rural woman walks more than 14,000 km a year just to fetch water.

The death of an 11-year-old who succumbed to heat wave and drought proves it to be nothing short of a national tragedy.

We're looking at a dip food production

For a drought to be officially declared, one of the criteria is that under 50% of the area is sown. The 10 states under the current drought include some of the biggest producers of foodgrain, including wheat.

The obvious impact is lower agricultural production. The government expects foodgrain production to be lower than two years ago (a year of good monsoon).

In regions like Bundelkhand, sowing is expected to be barely 10% of all area. For the first time in five years, sugar output is expected to fall.

Water-intensive sugarcane is predominantly grown in Maharashtra and Karnataka. Pulses output is not expected to rise and may fall.

Farmer Suicides

According to reports, at least 320 farmers have committed suicide in Marathwada this year, largely due to water scarcity, debt and land infertility.

This is the fourth consecutive year of scanty rainfall, hailstorms and erratic weather. In Andhra, 341 farmers have killed themselves in the last six months. A fact-finding team of Rythu Swarajya Vedika (RSV), an NGO working in Telangana and Andhra, found that out of 40 farmer suicides cases in seven districts, 39 were directly caused by heavy crop loss due to drought or cyclone.

Since January 2015, more than 1,000 farmers have killed themselves in Karnataka due to the drought and crop loss. In Mandya district alone, 100 farmers committed suicide from June 2015 to March 2016; the district has suffered a severe water crisis as canals and reservoirs have dried up.

The actual number is higher since these numbers are officially recorded only if the suicide notes mention inadequate rainfall as a reason.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

First published: 22 April 2016, 16:29 IST