In many parts of India water poses a paradox. We are witnesses to the absurdity of surplus water as well as a dearth of water at different times of the same year. Drought and drought-like conditions haunt many parts of India year after year causing acute water crisis. Drought or a scarcity of water is the flip side of floods-excessive water. Year after year we battle these two watery twins, doing relief work whenever they strike. Yet how often do we delve into the crux of the problem—i.e. the causes of drought and floods?
Undulating topography, steep slopes, change in land use pattern, insufficient attention to soil and water conservation measures have been the main reasons for this paradoxical situation. Water crisis is not due to lack of rain or less rain, but due to inadequate recharging of rainwater. Water conservation is the only known way to protect the lands and to solve the water scarcity especially in a predominantly agricultural country like India, where droughts and famines cause chronic water scarcity. Water conservation is not just for drought. Many parts of India receive a lot of rainfall at some time of the year, yet at other times reel under the impact of drought. Hence it is important to remember that water conservation is not just for times of water shortage.
High rate of farmer suicides is indicative of the incalculable human loss and damage to farmer morale that the nation has suffered several years on the trot. The phenomenon of drought and floods leads to distress migration of the poor and marginalised community in search of livelihoods.
Soil and Water Conservation Measures : Concerted efforts are required to conserve every drop of rain water. Conservation of the monsoon runoff through adopting scientifically designed techniques of fracture zone recharge has been proved to be effective in reducing the effect of the drought situation. Hence it is high time to conserve, preserve and protect this precious resource through simple methods of soil and water conservation. It needs to be planned well with the active participation of the community in designing suitable area specific conservation measures. Stream based actions such as construction of several gully plugs in the small streams reduces the flow of water followed with the construction of subsurface barriers in the streams helps in recharging the groundwater. Land based actions such as construction of Water Absorption Trenches (WAT), bunding, construction of ponds and lakes, recharging of open wells and bore wells, Roof Water Harvesting (RWH) Systems can solve the issue of water crisis if done in a collective manner.
Drought & Food insecurity: The farming community which includes the landholders, agricultural labourers and their families are badly affected in any kind of drought situation as farming activities are based on water availability and normal rainfall, apart from Minimum Support Price (MSP) favouring farmers. Public Distribution System (PDS) become the main source of food grains and it is restricted to rice and wheat. This has changed the local food systems in many villages as pulses, millets disappeared from their plates. Drought badly affects agriculture production and farmers are facing the brunt of it as the food grain production is reduced. Many areas known as food secure zones have now become a symbol of insecurity and migration due to climate change.
Drought & Distress: For both subsistence and commercial cropping, the farmers take small and big loans at high rate of interests, either on collateral security or on future crop production. The pressure of loan and the higher expenditure for farming, and ultimately the crop loss, lead to debts and harassment from the financial institutions and individual moneylenders, forcing farmers to commit suicides leaving the burden on family members (spouse and children). It also forces many to stress migration, forced child labour and human trafficking. The burden of farmers gets aggravated with the depletion of fodder and higher expenditure in the context of severe drought and farmers are forced to distress selling of livestock. Lack of availability of water also leads to Open Defecation.
Drought & Water stress: The effect of drought will be comparatively high in low rainfall area and it does not matter how much rain the area receives, when we let the rainwater flow off on the surface. The impact of drought is hard and results in economic and environmental complications. For ensuring “assured irrigation” numerous bore wells were dug in many parts of India despite water scarcity and deep aquifers were being tapped. Free electricity for agricultural purposes prompt farmers to go for pumping till the aquifer reaches deep. The water level in any well will be lowered if other wells nearby withdraw too much groundwater. This has resulted in the depletion of groundwater sources. In many parts of India, drinking water is mostly sourced from deep bore wells/tube wells which has higher than the permissible level of Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), hardness, nitrates, calcium and other elements.
Restricted use of groundwater during drought period: The over-exploitation and over-pumping of groundwater can lead to the increase in the effect of drought. Hence, over-pumping needs to be restricted through a monitoring mechanism, in severe drought situations.
Social responsibility: It is the responsibility of all social development organizations to support the Government in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and objectives of the Union and State Governments, to overcome deprivation faced by extreme drought situations and thereby improve the living conditions of the poor and marginalized communities in India. Communities should be made aware of the social protection schemes of the government and facilitate them to access to it. Community Based Organisations can play a major role in Insurance schemes and access the same for farmers/families and to prevent the over influence of private moneylenders. I t is very important to create a strong grassroots base towards mitigating drought through awareness building. The district drought management plan with specific plan of action including community managed drought mitigation measures of soil and water conservation, socio economic protection measures by involving CSO and their networks working with the socially excluded and marginalized communities at the grassroots can find a way to reduce the impact. Ensuring rights and entitlements of the socially excluded communities need handholding and sustained capacity inputs to tackle the complex issue of exclusion and concerted effort is required to work together for achieving one goal.
(The writer is Manager – Climate Adaptive Agriculture and Livelihood at Caritas India, New Delhi.)
(Published on 24th June 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 26)