Home / Industry / UP’s Bundelkhand staring at a famine-like situation: survey

New Delhi: Even as half of India is reeling under a second consecutive drought year, a survey of the chronically drought-striken Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh has unearthed grim details of crop loss, disputes over water, starvation, and deaths due to hunger and malnutrition.

The survey by the Swaraj Abhiyan, a political movement on farmers’ issues, covered over 1,200 households in 108 villages spread across seven districts in Bundelkhand. Conducted between 27 October and 9 November, it was designed by Yogendra Yadav, founder of Swaraj Abhiyan, and economist Jean Dreze.

Between 61% and 96% of households reported a total loss of their oilseed, coarse grain and pulse crops, the survey found. For 96% households, this was a second consecutive crop loss after their rabi (winter) crop was lost due to unseasonal rains in March and April this year.

On the drinking water situation, 65% households reported a decline in domestic water availability, and 66% said quarrels over water have increased in the past eight months.

Queries on household food consumption over a month preceding the survey revealed that on an average, households consumed pulses on 4 days (out of 30 days) and milk on 6 days. Worryingly, nearly 40% households did not consume any pulses and 60% did not consume any milk in the past month. Households that went hungry at least once in the last 30 days came in at 14%; for the poorest households, the number was 19%.

Over 86% and 84% of households reported cutting down on consumption of pulses and milk, respectively, while 79% said they were forced to eat roti (flat bread) with just salt and spices. Households that were “often or sometimes not sure of getting two square meals" in a day stood at 67%, and 17% of households had to eat “fikara"—a flat bread mixed with grass as a substitute for proper meals.

Shockingly, 38% villages reported at least one death due to hunger or malnutrition in the reference period of the past 8 months. However, the survey did not independently verify this and relied on village-level group discussions.

The grim situation of food scarcity and famine-like conditions gets clearer with additional household-level indicators. 24% of households had to send their children for wage labour and as many as 36% had to borrow food for survival. Nearly 40% households resorted to distress sale of cattle, 27% had to sell or mortgage land, while 24% had to sell or mortgage ornaments. Additionally, 87% of households said they could not repay their debts.

And, in a country where cows are venerated, nearly half the villages reported more than 10 cattle deaths due to starvation.

The main focus of the survey was to find out if the drought and adverse weather over the past few years is turning into a famine and the details are alarming, said Yadav while presenting the survey findings.

“The response of the state government has been weak, and Bundelkhand is witnessing the worst fallout of this year’s drought that hit several states. Both the state and the centre need to wake up and take emergency measures," Yadav said, adding, “while agriculture is a state subject and disaster relief falls on the concurrent list, a yearly drama plays out between the centre and states on the issue of relief."

Last week, Uttar Pradesh declared a drought in 50 out of 75 districts in the state and sought central assistance of 2,057 crore. So far, nine states have declared a drought and sought central funds totalling 20,000 crore.

The year, the rain deficit during the June to September south-west monsoon is at 14% (last year, the deficit was 12%), aggravating farm distress across the country due to repeated crop failures as well as lower prices of crops like rice, wheat and cotton.

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