Indian villagers gather around a well to fill their pots with water during a drought in Natwargadh village, some 110 kms from Ahmedabad, the capital city of India's western Gujarat state. — File Photo by AFP

MUMBAI: Millions of people in western India are suffering their worst drought in more than four decades, with critics blaming official ineptitude and corruption for exacerbating the natural water shortage.

Central areas of Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, are facing a water shortage worse than the severe drought in 1972, the state's chief minister Prithviraj Chavan told AFP.

“In recorded history the reservoirs have never been so low in central Maharashtra,” he said. “With every passing day the reservoirs are drying up.” Chavan blamed the crisis on two successive poor monsoons, although others say a public policy failure is also responsible.

Nearly 2,000 tanker trucks are being used to transport drinking water to the needy, while hundreds of cattle camps have been set up to keep livestock alive until the monsoon, which usually arrives in June.

“With every passing day, the tankers have to travel a greater distance.

It's a huge logistical issue,” Chavan said.

The chief minister's office could not put an exact figure on the population in the 10,000 villages affected, but said it ran into millions.

Christopher Moses runs a charitable hospital in Jalna, one of the worst-affected districts.

He said many people had lost their livelihoods as companies shut down and farmers' crops wither.

“This is a famine. Villagers have nothing to eat, they are scraping literally the bottom of their pot,” Moses told AFP by telephone from Jalna.

“Water-related diseases are on the up, starvation will start coming up, malnutrition will start coming up now,” he said.

He said the crisis may force him to shut down parts of his Jalna Mission Hospital for the first time in its 117-year history. It has not yet seen any emergency water supplies from the government.

With nearly three-quarters of Indians dependent on rural incomes, the yearly monsoon is a lifeline — especially given that about two-thirds of farmland is not irrigated and depends entirely on rain.

The 1972 drought led to a massive shortage of food grains and prices of all commodities rocketed, forcing India's government to increase imports, while another widespread drought in 2009 also inflated prices and hardship.

While last year's monsoon picked up late in western parts of India, low rainfall in the crucial month of June led to water deficiency throughout the season, according to Medha Khole at the India Meteorological Department.

Chavan warned there would a “very serious problem” if the rains fail this year.

An alleged irrigation scam has been blamed for worsening Maharashtra's crisis, with politicians and bureaucrats accused of wasting vast public funds on unfinished projects in the state through corruption and nepotism.

Maharashtra's proportion of irrigated land grew by just 0.1 percentage points between 2000 and 2010, an official economic survey said, despite billions of dollars being spent on it.

A controversial government white paper has disputed the statistics and Chavan declined to comment on graft allegations involving other ministers because the courts are investigating.

He acknowledged that the government “could have planned better” on irrigation schemes and was now trying to complete projects meant for agriculture to provide drinking water in deficient areas.

Professor H.M. Desarda, an economist in the drought-hit region, said corruption was a “very significant part of the problem”, but a lack of understanding of how best to harvest rainwater was also to blame.

He believes better water management is needed and a shift of focus from expensive projects, such as giant dams, to smaller and more efficient community-level methods for storing water.

Regulations on groundwater extraction, which is exacerbating the water scarcity, also need to be more stringently enforced.

“It's not a failure of rain, it's a failure of public policies,” said Desarda.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (28)

March 7, 2013 2:26 am
Super poors of Super economy!
March 6, 2013 6:02 pm
Yes, It will. It has technology to send mission but no one has technology to have normal monsoon every year.
March 6, 2013 9:18 pm
And corruption. Each leads to the other.
March 6, 2013 7:06 pm
And our neighbour will go for the moon
March 6, 2013 7:29 pm
Central India always had shortage, Hope we can counter this by replicating Rajasthan kind of plan. Indira Gandhi Canal has solved most of the water woes of Indias most Dry state. This is a problem which can be solved. Thankyou Dawn for publishing it.
March 6, 2013 4:41 pm
The AFP always digs stories from India which can make Pakistanis feel happy.It embellishes it with half baked facts & fiction.See every article fromAFP,its the same.Go to Sindh in Pakistan & you will find worst cases of shortages & famine.
March 6, 2013 4:42 pm
Failed nation will always be cynical.
March 6, 2013 4:36 pm
Don't worry,we will manage. We can look after our people despite challenges.Unlike,Pakistan where more people die everyday by bombs & hunger.
sanchari bhattacharya
March 6, 2013 2:54 pm
India's wheat pile rises amid famine in few states. This is due to grave mismanagement.
sanchari bhattacharya
March 6, 2013 2:56 pm
Well our green revolution worked..we don't have storage or our grains. We are working on a food security program tied with a biometric number system. We got a billion people. But we are a democracy and we do work for the betterment of the people of India
March 7, 2013 6:31 pm
Saleem, you know what, it will happen. Because normal nation states can do multiple things at the same time, like modernize the armed forces, build space technology, and pull people out of poverty, all in parallel. Nobody in India thinks that technology advancement will have to come to a grinding halt because there is a drought in western India.
March 7, 2013 6:43 pm
Watch out for the impending water wars betrween Pakistan and Bharat...
Sandeep Singh
March 6, 2013 3:26 pm
No, he said, he would send those draught affected million Indians to Mars ;-)
March 6, 2013 3:28 pm
"We (Pakistan) will eat grass or (leaves), even go hungry, but we (Pakistan) will get one of our own (Atom bomb)" —Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Foreign Minister of Pakistan, 1965, statement issued October 1965
March 6, 2013 3:22 pm
meanwhile in pakistan...
March 6, 2013 3:23 pm
Sheer Ignorance.
March 7, 2013 2:49 pm
I see no logic in your comment.
March 7, 2013 6:27 pm
Of course, you should know, judging from the condition of minorities in Pakistan.
March 6, 2013 2:03 pm
Still the countries in subcontinent has billions of dollors to spend on defence
March 6, 2013 2:23 pm
Trouble lie ahead. Expect more Hindu-Muslim riots. When times are bad, the minorities get shafted.
March 6, 2013 2:11 pm
Irrigation minister of Maharashtra Ajit Pawar lead a corruption of 70,000 Crores in the name of water supply and irrigation. See the result on photographs like the one above. Nobody can touch him because his uncle has 9 MPs in Indian Parliament, and can down the Congress ministry in Maharashtra. That is the summation of demo-crazy in India. It is not Al-Quida or Indian Mujahiddin, Indians are actually killing Indians.
March 6, 2013 5:17 am
God help those people... poverty is the biggest challenge for South Asian countries
Ravi Ingale from Pune.
March 6, 2013 5:18 am
It is not only the story of Western India but it is the story of all the regions where big rivers are not flowing.
March 6, 2013 4:45 pm
Corruption and mindless capatalism is the reason. People today only think of money and nothing beyond. We need a complete cleansing of our excess population.
March 6, 2013 4:37 pm
Keep your prayers for Hazaaras and other Shias in Karachi.
March 6, 2013 9:14 am
"soon India will send a mission to Mars" Indian PM
March 7, 2013 6:24 pm
"Go to Sindh in Pakistan & you will find worst cases of shortages & famine." So what's your point? Drought and famine from India should not be reported? Or drought in India is ok since it's also happening in Pakistan? There are people in our country who very lives are at stake, and the story speaks about facts and about those who are trying to make the best of a bad situation. And your biggest issue is that it has been reported in a Pakistani newspaper?? Where are your priorities?
A Rehman K
March 7, 2013 5:34 am
Especially India
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Explore: Indian elections 2014
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