Without rain, a bleak outlook
As drought takes a heavy toll in Rajasthan, there are measures the state government must take quickly, says Deepak Malik.
October 2002 - As the south-west monsoon swept across India with less than its usual force, many states face a gloomy harvest and a year of food shortages and drought. Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Uttarachal in the north and Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu are facing major crises. Twelve meteorological districts in the country have been hit by poor monsoon this year. Expected to start around mid-June and continue until September, the monsoon has been intermittent, with heavy rains around the north-east resulting in floods in two States Bihar and Assam, while the north and north-west have been relatively dry causing widespread crop damage and economic loss. Rajasthan is one of the worst affected states. Drought has loomed in all the 32 districts with a deficit rainfall of 53.4%. There are areas where people have not experienced even one proper shower during the whole monsoon period. This is the fifth continuous drought in the state. Approximately 40 million people and 50 million cattle have been affected this year alone. The water table is going down, wells and handpumps have gone dry. Livestock have started dying of hunger and thirst. People have started abandoning their cattle after praying to god for their lives. Migration to cities and other states is up. Social structures in villages have suffered. Weddings have been postponed indefinitely. There is a dreary stillness in the air. This year's drought raises many issues which need immediate attention. Some of these are discussed below. Drinking water Dry ponds, wells and handpumps are making life miserable for the poor sector of society. About 30% of the handpumps have gone dry. Women have to walk long distances to fetch water. Western Rajasthan is vulnerable in terms of all the scarcities. Water rates have gone up. Tanker tractors are charging extremely high prices. One tanker tractor of 1000 liters costs from Rs.200 to 500 depending on location and distance. According to Additional Relief Secretary Mr. Karni Singh Rathore, about 26,000 villages will face problems from the drinking water crisis. PHED has a contingency plan of Rs. 518 crore. Overall 30,000 works of renovating traditional water harvesting structures have been identified under relief works. 3400 new handpumps and 1205 tubewells will also be bored. 1500 tanker tractors are supplying water in 1100 villages. Of the western state districts, the most severely affected is Pali. Each day, two trains of water must be provided to Pali. No district is in a position to provide water properly, as everywhere the rainfall is deficit. There is simply no way that 1500 tanker tractors could quench the thirst of 40 million people and 50 million livestock. Fodder and livestock Most of the reports from District Collectors on the drought situation have prioritized fodder as the main concern. With nearly no agriculture, there is now a situation of fodder deficiency all over the state. Western Rajasthan districts are more affected. Because the drought is regional, neighbouring states like Punjab and Haryana, which used to supply fodder in normal years, are themselves facing similar worries this year. The scarcity in other states is not of great intensity as it is their first or second year of drought and they still have some buffer stocks of fodder, but not to supply other states. There is some fodder in Hanumangarh and Ganganagar districts, which other districts are procuring. There is a steep hike in fodder price - 40 kg now costs Rs –180 to 200- and this has led many into debt. Much of the available fodder is contaminated with high levels (upto 25%) of mud. Due to the non-availability of water and fodder people have started abandoning their unproductive cattle, putting a mark on their foreheads in a last prayer under open skies. There are reports of animals dying of hunger and thirst. Animal carcasses can be found in the countrysides. Many people have started migrating to other states with their animals. In some instances, neighbouring states are obstructing this migration. Nearly 50% of the livestock could be lost. The government has plans to open 3000 fodder depots. Many of them have been opened in western districts, but many have no fodder. The government has asked NGOs to open fodder depots and cattle camps but the delay of payments [and in some cases, non-payments] by the government has demotivated NGOs to open these camps. Some suggestions from NGOs and fields are:
October 2002 Deepak Malik works with the non-governmental organisation Health, Environment, and Development Consortium (HEDCON), working towards social reconstruction in the state of Rajasthan. To sensitize development agencies, VOs, NGOs, activists and people on the current drought situation in Rajasthan, HEDCON provides pertinent information for the media.