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Drought hits Indian farmers hard

Mar 26, 2013

This year could see the worst drought in a long time – and with farmers struggling for water the issue is making news, not necessarily highlighting the plight of the vulnerable population

Television viewers in India watched in disgust as a self-styled God-man and devotees at his ashram, or spiritual abode, revel in playing, spraying and spilling gallons of water to celebrate Holi – the Hindu festival of colours.

Days later, political activists vandalised an electricity generating company that has received government largesse in the form of a decision divert millions of gallons of drinking water to thermal power plant.

The country watched in horror when a 30-year-old Andhra farmer appeared on television, lifting his shirt to show a scar from an operation he underwent to sell his kidney – a sign of the bad times a rain-fed economy has plunged its farmers into.

Parts of India are in the throes of one of the worst droughts in living memory and there have been reports of people migrating out of their villages from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

In Maharashtra, the state government has deployed nearly 2,500 tanker trucks to supply drinking water to the worst affected areas. The central government has approved Rs 12,07840 million (more than USD 22,000 million) for the state.

The state’s chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was quoted as telling news agencies that water reservoirs in the state were at their lowest ever in recorded history “With every passing day the reservoirs are drying up,” Chavan was quoted as saying.

Humanitarian have now begun to take notice – a bit late in the day, considering that the government had declared a drought early on in the year.

International charity, Save the Children says it has reached out to its field teams in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra to assess the drought situation and develop an appropriate response.

“This is a matter of grave concern and no humanitarian agency can remain a bystander,” says Ray Kancharla, Humanitarian-DRR Manager for Save the Children, adding, “as Save the Children, we are certainly concerned about the risks to children in these states due to the crisis.”

The government reaction usually comes a bit late in the day, as past political dithering on decisions around droughts suggest. In part, this is due to jitters the message sends to industry as planners are working to shift the focus away from a primarily agrarian economy.

On a visit to India last year, Japanese meteorologist and Toshio Yamagata, director of application laboratory at Yokohama Institute for Earth Sciences, Japan, had predicted India could face a drought-like situation with severe summers in 2013.

The prediction made many in the government sit up.

But the political climate in the run-up to general elections next year has prompted some pro-active decisions. Declaring a drought, for instance, allows farmers to avail credit facilities while the government takes up relief operations.

“With no prospects of income in the villages, many people have deserted their home and moved to cities in search of jobs and safer places,” a situation report released by Sphere India that is coordinating information from the drought-hit states says.

“There has been a shortage of fodder to feed cattle. Vaccines are required for the animals against foot and mouth disease and other diseases in the camps,” The Sphere India situation report reads.

The Government of India has also granted a sum of Rs. 7140 million (over USD 130 million) from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF) to Andhra Pradesh towards drought relief. Another Rs. 80 million (aprox USD 1.4 million) is due to be released from the special component of National Rural Drinking Water Programme for repair of damaged drinking water supply systems.

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