Rashi Aditi Ghosh /Zee Research Group
As the Centre announced a financial package for drought relief in Maharashtra, latest government figures show that about one fifth of the state’s population received 50 per cent deficient rainfall.
The Union Agriculture Ministry said earlier this month that 11801 villages in the state were reeling under drought. This number is a significant rise from the 7896 villages identified as drought-hit in January this year.
The 50 per cent water deficiency level has been reported in 64 out of 355 districts in the state. What is further alarming is that water sources in 1779 villages and 4709 smaller habitations had totally dried up. Some of these villages are facing drought for the second consecutive year.
State government data has further buttressed the drought spread. According to the state’s Groundwater Surveys, 195 of the 1531 watersheds are critically depleted, and 73 already ‘over exploited’.
Maharashtra experienced its last worst ever drought in 1972 when almost five million people had no work as the crops failed. Earlier this month, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar told media that the current drought situation in Maharashtra was the worst seen in the last 40 years.
Explaining the major causes for worsening drought situation in Maharashtra, Nitya Jacob, programme director (water programme) at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), Delhi said, “The water level has declined in Maharashtra due to prolonged deficient rainfall.” As a result of cultivation of sugarcane and banana the situation had worsened since these crops required large amounts of water over a long period of time, he alleged.
Suggesting the prioritization of water resources towards the basic necessities of life, Jacob at CSE adds, “I would suggest that the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) should prioritize the distribution towards ‘water for life’, i.e. drinking water, water for cooking and water to maintain hygiene, and then think of supplying water for industrial and energy purposes.”
According to Dam Safety Organization (DSO), Government of Maharashtra, the state has the distinction of constructing the maximum number of dams in the country. But it is ironical that the state is currently facing one of its worst droughts. DSO also estimated that Maharashtra had almost 45 percent of the total number of dams in the country.
Talking on the deficient rainfall in the drought region, Sandeep Adhyapak, a Mumbai-based civil engineer and founder of water management firm Water Field Technologies (WTF) said, “I have visited the Western Ghats of Maharashtra and have observed deficient rainfall in the area for the past two years. If the region doesn’t get rain this monsoon, it will be an extremely difficult year for the villagers.”
Adhyapak added, “It is true that the state nearly has the maximum number of dams in the country but the maintenance levels of the dams are very poor. I am afraid that if the crisis persists then large-scale migration will take place from the region to find solace in other parts of the country.”