India wilts under severe drought

India wilts under severe drought

India is in the grip of a severe drought. According to a Central government report submitted to the Supreme Court, 254 districts in 10 states are reeling under drought. At least 33 crore people or a quarter of our population is said to be severely affected. The numbers are likely to be higher as the report includes only those districts that have been declared drought-hit. Thus, districts in Bihar and Haryana, which have not been declared drought-hit but merit the label, are not included. Neither is the situation in Gujarat. Maharashtra is suffering its worst drought in decades. Twenty-seven of Karnataka’s 30 districts are drought-hit as are 25 of 27 in Chhattisgarh and 22 of 24 in Jharkhand. It is only mid-summer and already a searing heatwave is sweeping the country; temperatures in central India have crossed 45 degrees Celsius. ‘Pleasant’ Bengaluru baked at 39.2 degrees Celsius on Sunday; its hottest day in 85 years. Ninety-one reservoirs have been reduced to shallow pools and rivers and lakes are drying up. Water in aquifers too is falling dangerously. The human death toll from the heatwave is rising, and crops and cattle are
perishing. The worst affected are daily wage labourers, who toil out in the open. The already grim power situation is worsening as several power stations have been shut down for want of water to run turbines and cool equipment. Worryingly, the monsoons are over a month away.

Two successive years of failed monsoons were early signs of a looming drought. Still little was done to prepare for the crisis. In a bid to defend her ministry’s sleeping on the job, Union Water Minister Uma Bharti says that “drought is a phenomenon for which it is pointless to plan in advance.” This is factually incorrect and a shameful abdication of responsibility.

Improving irrigation infrastructure and watershed management, and preventing wastage of water are among several measures that can be taken to conserve the country’s water resources. Experts are blaming the water crisis in Maharashtra on the shift in cultivation from jowar to water guzzling crops like Bt cotton and sugarcane. We need to act on these studies to put in place a medium and long term strategy to protect our farmers from the devastation of drought. In several parts of Maharashtra, the government imposed Section 144 to deal with fights and rioting over water. This is a sign of things to come. India is staring at water wars in the future. It must act now to prevent this scenario from becoming a reality.

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