More than 43.4 percent of India is reeling under drought, according to the Drought Early Warning System.
In Maharashtra, the situation is particularly grim. Nearly 50 percent of its geographical area, which incorporates around 72 percent districts is hit by drought and consequent crop failure. The heat wave has compounded the situation. Latur, Beed and Osmanabad in the Marathwada region have been identified as the worst affected districts.
In neighbouring Karnataka, the situation is worse with around 80 percent districts reeling under drought, Scroll has reported. Districts in Karnataka have shut schools for an extra week due to acute water scarcity.
As the 8.2 million farmers in the two states are struggling to make ends meet, the two state governments are embroiled in a feud over sharing of water resources.
Further South, in Tamil Nadu’s capital city Chennai, the situation is alarming. Water supply in the four reservoirs providing water to the city has dropped below 1 percent of their capacity, disrupting the operations of their metro rail. The Tamil Nadu government sanctioned Rs 233 crore for several emergency water projects.
The situation is similar in several states with – 5,555 villages in Rajasthan, 11 districts in Andhra Pradesh and 16 districts in Gujarat being earmarked as draught hit.
The worst affected regions in Gujarat are Kutch, Saurashtra and certain districts in North Gujarat. Even though the government has been pumping Narmada water to Kutch, but it doesn't seem to be enough.
The acute water shortage is compelling people in the hinterlands to migrate to cities, adding more pressure to the overpopulated metropolitans.
A deficient monsoon is the main cause of drought in India.
With the monsoon expected to be delayed in North India and below normal during onset, respite is not likely anytime soon in most parts of the country. The Southwest Monsoon is responsible for 80 percent of India’s rainfall.
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Besides, the El-Nino phenomenon, which is linked to heating of the Pacific waters, is also going to have a bearing on the monsoon, which will persist till August, after which conditions might be better.
A deficient monsoon has also led to over-usage of existing resources leading to 91 major reservoirs across India left with a mere 21 percent of the total storage capacity, the Central Water Commission said.
However, Desarda, a visiting professor at the Gokhale Instititue of Politics and Economics in Pune told Deccan Herald: "This is not a meteorological drought but hydrological drought caused by the failure of government and public policy. Sugarcane fields are the biggest water guzzlers. Sugarcane requires more water than any other crop. Despite this, the land under sugarcane cultivation is increasing by the years."
Desarda insisted that a crop be chosen according to rainfall pattern. Despite recording 450-550 mm of rainfall, as year as against an average of 700 mm, there has been a dramatic groundwater depletion in the Marathwada region. According to Desarda, it is because two lakh hectare of land in Marathwada is under sugarcane cultivation and 50 of the 200 sugar factories in Maharashtra are in this region.
What action has the government taken?
In the Marathwada region, nearly 6000 tankers are supplying water to 5000 villages and 10,000 hamlets. This has led to Marathwada being referred to as 'Tankerwada'. The Maharashtra government also set up cattle camps in Ahmednagar to ensure water and food for livestock. But now over 50,000 farmers have settled in those camps as a last resort.
Similarly, the state government in Gujarat is dispatching 500 tankers daily to drought-affected regions only to tackle drinking water problems.
However, these are short-term solutions. Data from the past century indicates that India has faced a drought every eight-nine years. Yet, three in five districts are not prepared for drought, according to a September 2018 paper published jointly by the Indian Institute of Technology, Indore and Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.
The government, at the state as well as Centre, needs to focus on sustainability and judicious usage of existing water resources. In addition, rainwater harvesting and water recycling need to be paid attention to.
In this regard, the Modi 2.0 government has commissioned the Jal Shakti Ministry
, which is going to tackle drinking water problems. It is going to be headed by Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.