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Four critical voices on India’s perennial drought problem


Many parts of India is in the grip of severe drought, some for the third consecutive year, leading to growing hunger, mass migration, water conflicts and farmer suicides. We present four well-known voices – Yogendra Yadav, Jean Dreze, Sunita Narain and the late Anil Agarwal –  on India’s perennial drought problem, its causes and possible solutions.

Maharashtra ignored my warnings on drought: Yogendra Yadav
The Hindu
Accusing Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of ignoring his warnings on the severity of the drought impacting Marathawada, where the local police had to invoke Section 144 to prevent violence over water, Swaraj Abhiyan leader Yogendra Yadav on Saturday said 31 per cent of the gram panchayats in drought-affected districts had not shown any expenditure under MGNREGS, according to official data, till March 31. Mr. Yadav said his organisation had taken out the Samvedna Yatra across drought-affected regions in Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Haryana from October 2 to examine the impact of the drought. On October 8, he had written to the Chief Ministers of all States, including Maharashtra, specifying the immediate measures needed to be taken to alleviate the sufferings of the rural population.

A drought of action
Jean Dreze, The Hindu
Droughts in India used to be times of frantic relief activity. Large-scale public works were organised, often employing more than 1,00,000 workers in a single district. Food distribution was arranged for destitute persons who were unable to work. Arrangements were also made for debt relief, cattle camps, water supply and more. The drought relief system was best developed in the western States of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan, but the basic framework was much the same elsewhere even if its implementation often fell short. This year, nothing like the same sense of urgency can be observed, despite 256 districts being declared drought-affected.

Permanently fighting drought
Sunita Narain, Business Standard
I write this as the country once again reels under crippling drought. But this drought is different. In the 1990s, it was the drought of a poor India. This 2016 drought is of richer and more water-guzzling India. This classless drought makes for a crisis that is more severe and solutions more complex. But it is also clear that drought in India is not a new phenomenon, nor is it going away soon. The fact is that the severity and intensity of drought is not about lack of rainfall, it is about the lack of planning, foresight and criminal neglect. Drought is man-made. Let’s be clear about this.

One missed opportunity, 330 million drought-stricken Indians
Anil Agarwal, Down to Earth
(Note: The late Anil Agarwal, founder of the Centre for Science and Environment respectively, wrote this in 2000 when India was reeling under one of its worst drought spells.)
It doesn’t matter how much rain you get, if you do not capture it you can still be short of water. It is unbelievable but it is true that Cherrapunji in Meghalaya which gets 11,000 mm annual rainfall, still suffers from serious drinking water shortage. Now contrast with this. Just the simple richness of rainwater availability that few of us realise because of the speed with which water, the world’s most fluid substance, disappears. Imagine you had a hectare of land in Barmer in Rajasthan, one of India’s driest places, and you received 100 mm of water in a year, common even for this area. That means that you received as much as one million litres of water —enough to meet drinking and cooking water needs of 182 people at a liberal 15 litres per day. Even if you are not able to capture all that water—this would depend on the nature of rainfall events and type of runoff surface, among other factors —you could still, even with rudimentary technology, capture at least half a million litres a year.

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For a detailed analysis of droughts in India, see the Centre for Science and Environment’s 2016 Annual State of India’s Environment Report

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One Response “Four critical voices on India’s perennial drought problem”

  1. ANGELA ALVARES
    15th June 2019 at 8:45 pm

    There are videos on Youtube which show how to reverse desert conditions brought on by brought. One sure way is to plant grass everywhere. The roots of the grass go way down and save rain water in pockets which later gush out as streams and further cause greening of the area. Unfortunately, the so called green revolution was actually the desertification of India, as vast tracts of land were burnt with acidic urea fertiliser and the grass and weeds were killed with chemical weed killers and herbicides. The farmer jumped into the bandwagon as now farming became easy…just dump fertiliser, then pesticides, and weed killers and their work was done. The Earth however without the microorganisms and living insects that worked the soil, became dead and harder to grow any food on. Rain will not fall on dead Earth …water has intelligence and memory ..why will it waste itself on death when it is a living thing. Unless people return to the countryside and start caring for the Earth and helping it revive by planting grass, trees and covering it with greenery, Humans in India will no longer be able to live here and will have to migrate to other countries that are governed with intelligence and not criminal ignorance and negligence.

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