Fight­ing drought

Though the mon­soon is be­hav­ing er­rat­i­cally, drought-prone dis­tricts are still wa­ter rich

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - RICHARD MA­HA­P­A­TRA @down2earth­in­dia

Wa­ter har­vest­ing struc­tures can pro­vide in­sur­ance against deficit mon­soon

BY THE time you read this col­umn, a clear pic­ture of the mon­soon would have emerged. As of the sec­ond week of July, it was of­fi­cially nor­mal. But the fear of a large num­ber of dis­tricts get­ting deficit rain­fall still lin­gered as the dis­tri­bu­tion of rain was un­even with the North­east and eastern states re­ceiv­ing deficit mon­soon. But the ques­tion is: why should farm­ers be wor­ried about deficit mon­soon?

Though close to 65 per cent farms in In­dia are rain-fed and one-third of the coun­try faces drought ev­ery year, the ex­ten­sive wa­ter con­ser­va­tion works un­der­taken under the Ma­hatma Gandhi Na­tional Ru­ral Em­ploy­ment Guar­an­tee Act, 2005, (mgnrega), ar­guably, have in­sured farm­ers against deficit rain­fall. From April 2017 to June 2018, ac­cord­ing to the of­fi­cial web­site of mgnrega, about 1.3 mil­lion wa­ter con­ser­va­tion struc­tures were cre­ated—two such struc­tures for each of In­dia’s 597,464 vil­lages. These struc­tures are meant for soil and wa­ter con­ser­va­tion, ground­wa­ter recharge, ir­ri­ga­tion and drought-proofing. About 70 per cent of these struc­tures are help­ing farm­ers ir­ri­gate their crop­lands. Out of these, half are farm ponds, which are wa­ter stor­age struc­tures that give farm­ers di­rect ac­cess to har­vested wa­ter dur­ing rain-deficit years. This has emerged as an ef­fec­tive drought mit­i­ga­tion strat­egy. Go­ing by the of­fi­cial data, half a mil­lion farm ponds have been cre­ated.

But mgnrega has been cre­at­ing enor­mous num­ber of wa­ter struc­tures since its in­cep­tion 12 years ago. Since 2005, it has cre­ated 46 such struc­tures for ev­ery vil­lage in the coun­try. So these should be al­ready help­ing in recharg­ing ground­wa­ter and cre­at­ing stor­ages to har­vest rain­wa­ter. Iron­i­cally, even a slightly deficit mon­soon leads to a se­vere drought. This is why ques­tions are raised on the ef­fec­tive­ness of these con­ser­va­tion works.

This is where one gets frus­trated. Ar­guably, ev­ery vil­lage and farmer has the in­sur­ance against a deficit mon­soon. But In­dia’s drought his­tory paints a dif­fer­ent pic­ture. Dur­ing 2014-2017, In­dia was shaken by se­vere spells of drought that hit over 500 mil­lion peo­ple across ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gions. Un­like in the past, these droughts did not spare even the ur­ban ar­eas—metropoli­tan cities like Chen­nai, Hy­der­abad and Ben­galuru de­clared wa­ter emer­gency and sev­eral towns re­sorted to wa­ter ra­tioning. Over the years, even a slight deficit in rain­fall is trig­ger­ing se­vere droughts. This is de­spite the fact that In­dia has more than 150 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in drought man­age­ment. And the chron­i­cally drought-prone dis­tricts re­ceive around 750 mm of rain­fall, while drought-prone ar­eas re­ceive be­tween 750 mm and 1,125 mm of rain­fall a year.

So, with the num­ber of wa­ter har­vest­ing struc­tures al­ready avail­able, the coun­try shouldn’t be wor­ried about deficit rain. Even if one re­ceives just 100 mm of rain­fall a year, in one hectare, one can har­vest as much as 1 mil­lion litres of wa­ter— enough to meet the drink­ing and cook­ing wa­ter needs of 182 peo­ple for a year at a lib­eral 15 litres per day.

But for this to hap­pen, our pol­i­cy­mak­ers must re­alise that drought man­age­ment is not about drought re­lief. At present, our fo­cus is on drought re­lief, but not think­ing in terms of long-term re­lief from drought. For this, lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties must be given the au­thor­ity to main­tain these wa­ter har­vest­ing struc­tures. This is the strat­egy our wise an­ces­tors adopted to tide over droughts even when there was no gov­ern­ment. And they were suc­cess­ful.

TARIQUE AZIZ / CSE

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