It is not even summer season and great swathes of India’s land are suffering from drought, recently published data reveals. This is according to an IndiaSpend analysis of figures from the Drought Early Warning System (DEWS), which contains dire implications for an enormous number of Indians and a sizeable proportion of the country’s land.
At the time of writing, the Centre is yet to officially declare an incidence of drought. However, six state governments – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, and Telangana – have announced dry spells in many of their districts. According to one monitoring platform, approximately 42 percent of the total land in India faces drought. This covers states home to 500 million Indians – almost forty percent of the total population.
Aside from the six states mentioned above, drought-affected areas include Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, and Tamil Nadu. Northeast India is also believed to be particularly hard-hit.
“One billion Indians already live without adequate access to water for at least one part of the year”
The dry spell distressing affected territories is likely to last until the monsoon season, experts warn. “The next two or three months are going to be difficult in many of these regions,” warned Vimal Mishra, an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Technology.
For those living in drought-affected areas, the effect on everyday life is already being seen. In Maharashtra, for example, drought conditions are leading to a hike in the price of vegetables as fruit and vegetable production slows. Compared to last year, fruit production is anticipated to drop to 9.9 million tonnes this year from 11.7 million tonnes last year. Vegetable production will drop from 12.3 million tonnes to 11.6 million tonnes. The Deoghar district of Jharkhand, meanwhile, is requesting funds to help compensate for shortages of drinking water.
One billion Indians already live without adequate access to water for at least one part of the year, as a WaterAid report revealed earlier this year. Those affected represent the overwhelming majority of India’s population. 75 percent of households lack access to drinking water on the premises. Seventy percent of all drinking water in India is contaminated.
Industry, exports, pollution and increased demand are driving a water crisis, which drought will only serve to exacerbate. This leaves India on the brink of an even bigger water shortage crisis, with UNESCO projecting such an occurrence by 2050.
“More than sixty percent of districts are not prepared for drought”
Environmental patterns are also to blame, experts suggest. India relies on monsoons for the vast majority of its rainfall, but last year saw northeast monsoon rains in the October-December period come up short by 44 percent from the normal figure of 127.7 millimetres. This shortfall came on the heels of a disappointing southwest monsoon in the June to September period, where rains came up 9.4 percent short.
Concerningly, this pattern could continue this year. The Indian Meteorological Department estimates that pre-monsoon showers are already coming up short. In March, the showers produced 36 percent less rainfall than the average. This could persist into May, leaving India vulnerable to further drought and water shortages as the summer months approach and poor rainfall depletes resources in India’s 91 major reservoirs. Their reserves declined by 32 percentage points in five months, as of March 22nd.
Preparedness is sorely lacking, the IndiaSpend report adds. More than sixty percent of districts are not prepared for drought, research by branches of the IIT in Guwahati and in Indore and IIT-Guwahati published last year estimated. A mere 241 of 634 districts studied showed preparedness.
“Drought is the reality of an India suffering under the weight of environmental troubles…The implications are manifold: water and food shortages, mass displacement due to entire regions becoming uninhabitable and increased incidence of natural disasters in the calibre of the flooding that killed hundreds in Kerala last year and heatwaves that have killed more than 22,000 people since 1990.”
India’s continuing water woes are likely to compound numerous issues the country is already facing – in particular, the anguish of its farmers. Water shortages are causing failing crop yields and depleting incomes, leading to a crisis of suicide among farmers and farm workers that has been observed in recent years.
Drought is the reality of an India suffering under the weight of environmental troubles. Skyrocketing surface temperatures mean the country is exposed to a range of calamities as the climate becomes no less inclement, but gears up to get more extreme. The implications are manifold: water and food shortages, mass displacement due to entire regions becoming uninhabitable and increased incidence of natural disasters in the calibre of the flooding that killed hundreds in Kerala last year and heatwaves that have killed more than 22,000 people since 1990.
Water shortages are dangerous and fatal crises looming over India, both at present and in future. Groundwater supplies are already in decline. Rivers are too polluted to sustain human life (exemplified in the long-term degradation of Mother Ganga). And the human cost is staggering in its scope and severity. With elections imminent, environmental concerns must be taken to the polls as Indians look to the future – and realise that environmental issues like drought which have long plagued the nation will not go away unless policymakers are compelled to action.