Drought—a resource management challenge

The agrarian crisis highlights the challenges India faces in resource management


In some parts of the country, the tragedy has already breached the thin line that separates a drought from a famine.  Photo: PTI
In some parts of the country, the tragedy has already breached the thin line that separates a drought from a famine. Photo: PTI

Two years of failed rains and the end of the global commodity super-cycle has resulted in an agrarian crisis in India.

Reports from the field suggest that things are far worse than what anyone could have imagined. In some parts of the country, the tragedy has already breached the thin line that separates a drought from a famine. And while the weatherman has predicted bountiful rains this year, the results of this will only be evident when the monsoon crop is harvested in October (put otherwise, the rains will improve sentiment, but not the availability of food).

Mint’s columnist Himanshu (he uses only one name) calls it the worst agricultural crisis in India in two decades.

It isn’t just farms and farmers that have been hit by the drought, if it can still be called that. India’s weather office has decided to replace the word ‘drought’ with ‘deficient rainfall’ because, as we all know, all droughts are political . Almost half the districts in India are experiencing a shortage of drinking water .

As Mint pointed out in a four-part data journalism series on the water crisis last year: “In urban areas, where the demand of 135 litres per capita daily (lpcd) is more than three times the rural demand of 40 lpcd, the scarcity assumes menacing proportions. Already, Delhi and Chennai are fed with supply lines stretching hundreds of kilometres.”

The crisis highlights the challenges India faces in resource management. For decades, India has continued to use water profligately. It has also ignored the economic, scientific and environmental aspects of water management. Subsidies on equipment and electricity usage have encouraged the over-exploitation of groundwater, which accounts for more than half the water used in India. Meanwhile, a surfeit of dams have wreaked havoc on riverine systems. And the use of modern technologies, for irrigation, treatment, or recycling are more the exception than the norm.

The solutions are simple on paper but extremely difficult (though not impossible) to implement. And unless we do what needs to be done, water, not anything else, could cause the next wave of civil disturbances in the country.

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