This summer has left parts of India reeling under drought and water scarcity. Even with governments implementing several drought mitigation schemes, water scarcity and severe droughts are now matters of worry every summer. New research suggests that more than piecemeal schemes India needs a holistic approach to comprehensively address drought.

In a new study published in the Economic and Political Weekly, Neha Bhadbhade and others examine the effectiveness of Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan - Maharashtra’s flagship water conservation scheme – in tackling drought. Maharashtra is particularly vulnerable to drought with around 40% of the state drought-prone. In response to this, the government of Maharashtra initiated JSA in 2015-16 to make Maharashtra drought-free by 2019. As part of the scheme, the government has spent 7,600 crore for water conservation works including the creation of 24,000 million cubic feet of water storage in the state. This stored water is meant to address village water needs during droughts. But this has not worked with areas affected by drought actually increasing after the scheme launch. In 2018-19, 151 blocks were declared drought affected against 138 in 2015-16 and around 5,000 villages are dependent on water tankers for basic drinking water.

The authors explain that the scheme has failed because it is only a quick fix solution. It does not entail a proper strategy for ensuring water availability throughout the year as the storage structures were poorly built and only of use during rains. A larger drawback of the scheme is the lack of an integrated approach for water management, the authors argue. For instance, irrigation projects are sanctioned simultaneously with JSA without a proper understanding of the local hydrological system. JSA also does little to curb other unsustainable practices such as excessive groundwater extraction and cultivation of water-intensive crops. By not taking a holistic approach for water management, schemes like JSA offer only piecemeal solutions to drought management, the authors conclude.

Also Read: Can Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan Prevent Drought in Maharashtra?

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