Series: Combating drought – 1: What the experts say

As India reels under a back-to-back drought, with 10 states declared affected and nearly 2,00,000 villages affected, it’s time to ask whether the present situation could’ve been avoided. As many expert voices presented here point out, it’s not the weather alone that creates a drought, but bad planning and an often corrupt and apathetic administration.

Penny unwise, pond foolish
Jitendra Choube, Down to Earth
The answer to why Bundelkhand failed to prepare for drought lies in the kind of water-harvesting structures that have been built. Most are either technically flawed or unsuited to the terrain. For instance, the Sakaria reservoir. This 40 ha reservoir constructed at a cost of Rs 5.7 crore in Heerapur village of Madhya Pradesh’s Panna district was a non-starter because the gradient of the land did not slope towards the reservoir. “Six years ago, I had pleaded with the district collector a number of times that the proposed site for the reservoir would not work because the slope was in the wrong direction,” says 65-year-old Shukru Gond of Heerapur. But the argument was dismissed because the project had been cleared by engineers. However, the knowledge of the village residents about the terrain proved correct. The reservoir that was announced as part of the Bundelkhand package to provide irrigation to 380 ha has now been declared defunct.

It is not a drought
Richard Mahapatra, Down to Earth
Is the drought of 2015-16 different from other droughts? No. Like previous years, this time too India has just reacted to a situation. Though in all these years our policy has been to drought-proof the country instead of just embarking on drought relief operations. Since the 1965-66 drought, it has been an official policy to prepare villages to fight drought by investing in works related to soil and moisture management. As they say, drought is a disaster one can see coming. Deficit monsoon creates situations for a drought. But it is not deficit monsoon, rather the lack of policies and mechanisms to drought-proof susceptible areas that turn the situation into a crisis.

Lessons from fighting a drought
N.S. Ramnath, Live Mint
India is facing one of its worst droughts. Water shortage has hit over 330 million people, which is more than the entire population of the US. However, amid this desert of suffering, there are some oases of hope. There are solutions—both within and outside India—that can put an end to some of the worst impacts of drought. They need to be adapted and scaled up. Here are seven takeaways on the subject.

No correlation between drought and good harvest: Israel development body chief
Sayantan Bera, Live Mint
How does a country whose 60% area is a desert export high-value farm produce? What helped Israel is not just technology in irrigation and waste-water recycling, but also behavioural change—not to take water for granted. At a time when a prolonged drought has led to a drinking water crisis in several states in India, is there something to learn from the Israeli experience? Edited excerpts from an interview with Uri Schor, spokesman of Israeli Water Authority, and Gil Haskel, head of MASHAV- Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation.

‘India can learn from other regions the need to adopt proactive drought management policies’
Deepanwita Niyogi, Down to Earth
FAO expert Mohamed Bazza speaks on how climate change is expected to make drought worse and how the adoption of proactive drought management policies can help vulnerable people. “In my view, a valid lesson that India can learn from other regions of the world is the need to adopt proactive drought management policies and to materialise them at the state or local level in drought-prone regions of the country. Some of the well-known drought management strategies exist on paper in India. However, they have not been developed through the right consultative processes and, as a result, they were not implemented,” he says.

The need for long-term action
Surinder Sud, Business Standard
The current approach towards drought management is based broadly on the “drought code” – earlier called “famine code” – that was drafted originally by the British rulers and has since been modified from time to time to suit the changing circumstances. This code revolves essentially around launching ad hoc relief measures to provide drinking water, food, fodder and employment in drought-ravaged areas. These programmes are wound up once the drought is over and also forgotten till the tragedy strikes again. The present code, thus, is basically a recipe for meeting the problem on hand with the least regard to measures needed to soften the impact of droughts in the long run.

Drought management: Going beyond knee-jerk response
Ranjan Panda, Big Wire
Drought management efforts mostly begin only after drought is declared and efforts are largely limited to relief measures that do not really compensate the loss, nor does cater to mitigation in a strategic manner. The Supreme Court has pointed out a lot of loopholes in current drought management practices and shows how the existing mechanisms have failed in tackling this disaster in the country.

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