The Heat Is Online

Indian Drought Brings Parties Together

Cattle perish as drought grips India's Rajasthan

Planet Ark, Reuters News Service, May 9, 2000


KHAJURIA - Bharta Ram, a farmer in India's parched northwestern state of Rajasthan, has lost 29 cattle in the past two months since a severe drought hit thousands of villages in the desert province.


"I have lost everything. My children used to play with milk, now there isn't even a drop to drink," he said, sitting near his dairy farm's only surviving cow in the tribal village of Khajuria.

Rajasthan, along with the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, has been in the grips of a severe drought following the failure of the monsoon rains last year and a scorching heat wave sweeping large parts of the country. Villagers say thousands of animals have perished in the past two months.

Corpses are hung out to dry on trees lining a thin ribbon of road leading to the remote village of Khajuria in the Aravalli mountains, some 450 km (280 miles) south of state capital Jaipur. People in Khajuria say a quarter of their livestock has died due to a dire shortage of fodder.

The severe shortage of animal feed and water has forced many farmers to let their livestock loose in the state's barren fields and dried up forests. Herds of cattle wander from place to place chewing on leafless bushes and many drop dead during their hunt for food. People say truckloads of animal skeletons move out of Kotda, a nearby township, every other day.

"The contractor gets animal bones collected from all the villages and transports them to the cities," said Gulab Ram, the head of Khajuria, among the worst affected villages.

But a state minister in charge of relief operations said the government had no reports of cattle deaths due to the drought. "Cattle deaths could be there due to some other reason like disease," Kulab Singh Shaktawat told Reuters.

LIVING ON THE EDGE

As temperatures soar and water sources dry up, Rajasthan has declared 23,406 villages drought-hit, affecting the lives of more than 20 million of the state's 44 million people.

With traditional sources of water such as wells, rivers, rivulets and streams drying up in and around Khajuria, women often trek miles for drinking water.

"There is no greenery left in the areas and we are not getting any supplies from the government," said Mohammed Usman, a resident of Kalakhetar village.

"It seems that the world will come to an end. I have not seen anything like this before," added an old tribal villager.

Authorities have started mammoth relief operations to help people in the parched villages, including digging new wells and employing farmers under the government's food for work programme.

"These people have no money, no food, so we recruit them for doing labour jobs, like digging canals," said an official supervising a relief programme.

The government had employed more than 550,000 people across the state to help dig new reservoirs, deepen parched dams and widen canals along the highway.

They get paid between 40 to 60 rupees for eight to 10 hours of work - barely enough for two meals a day for a family. "They take their pay in the evening to buy food. It is a hand to mouth situation for them," the official said. ($1 = 43.6 rupees).
Story by Naveen Thukral
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE

Earthweek: A diary of the planet, The Boston Globe, May 2, 2000

Almost 8,000 communities have been affected by the worst drought in 100 years and at least 100 of the 143 reservoirs in the districts of Saurashtra, Kutch and north Gujarat have dried up, following eight months without rain.

INDIA: DIVISION OVER DROUGHT

New York Times, April 26, 2000
All the major political parties met to discuss a drought that is affecting 50 million people in five states. Leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the ruling coalition, called for a united front. But there was dissension, even from the party's main coalition partner, the Telugu Desam Party from the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. One of its leaders complained that Andhra had not received enough help.
Celia W. Dugger (NYT)

India launches drought relief
Stephanie Watson, weather.com, April 26, 2000

India launched a massive relief program Wednesday for millions stricken by drought in its western states. Officials made assurances that grain supplies would last, even if the crucial June-September monsoon rains were insufficient to stem the growing drought situation.

"Things are very much in control," said Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Minister Shanta Kumar. "We are sending all possible relief to the affected states. There will be no shortage of food whatsoever."

Kumar said emergency livestock fodder, water, and some 800,000 tons of wheat and rice will be shipped by rail wagon to the parched coastal states of Gujarat and neighboring Rajasthan.

The U.N. World Food Program announced that it will also contribute to the effort, providing 1,500 tons of grain to four Rajasthan districts.

The drought has thus far affected 20 million people and 10 million head of cattle in more than 9,000 villages, Gujarat's interior minister told reporters.

While no human deaths have been directly attributed to the drought, numerous wasted and parched cattle have already perished.

"There is no water. Water is available only once every 10 to 15 days. Cattle are dying," said Suguni, a woman living in Churu, a remote corner of the Gujarat state.

Some villages in Churu have seen no rain for nine months. Many villagers have left their homes in search of fresh water.

There are widespread concerns that this year's monsoon season will bring less than average rainfall, fears which Kumar quickly dismissed.

"We have already got the feedback from the…meteorological department that this year it will be a normal monsoon," he assured reporters. The state-run research agency said on Tuesday that India expected about 789 mm (approximately 31 inches) of rain this season, as compared with 840 mm (33 inches) last year. India receives about 80 percent of its annual rainfall from the southwest monsoon.

Reuters Limited contributed to this report.