The pictures of a train taking water to drought affected areas in Maharashtra is still afresh even after two years. India has witnessed transformation on various economic fronts but even after two years of draught, the way our government handles drought has not seen much change.
A report recently published in the Wall Street Journal says that ‘drought in India inflict serious economic implications. Even though the impact may be limited in the case of food grains, there is always a chance of higher prices of vegetables, fruits, lentils and edible oils pushing up inflation.’
Mahadev Chetti, Additional Director General, Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) told BW Businessworld, “The policies and framework are there to combat drought condition. ICAR has come up with regulations which are highly effective to protect our agricultural economy from drought condition. However, there is lack of awareness among farmers regarding it.”
It cannot be denied that India still doesn’t have proper infrastructure in place to combat with drought condition. “The travesty is that Indian agriculture is still monsoon dependent. Our economy can shoot up dramatically if we work on irrigation system and grain storage system,” Chetti adds.
The frequency of droughts has increased due to climate change on a global level. This makes it necessary to ensure measures which can help mitigate drought effects. This year’s union budget saw greater allocation for irrigation schemes. However, the government must realise that allocating funds is just means and not the end.
"Our government is already sensitive towards drought and water issues. We are there for three years. Our government is taking concrete measures to provide permanent solutions to save water and boost water resources via Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, river linking programme and others," Mr Javadekar told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in April this year.
According to a planning commission report on drought, “with drought’s increased frequency and expanded coverage in the recent years, about one third of the country is either drought prone or under desert areas.”
Drought condition not only effects our agriculture but also water availability in urban areas. The situation is more critical in India as we have 17 per cent of global population but only 4 per cent of the world's water resources.
Rudresh Sugam, Senior Programme Lead, Council on Energy Environment and Water told BW Businessworld, “The implications of drought are different from place to place within a city. The slum dwellers are the first one to get affected as they do not have any formal water supply. They have to depend on water tankers which increase the rates during droughts.”
There is an urgent need for government to take steps to upgrade initiatives to conserve water. Sugam explained the need for technology shift to better water conservation saying, “Water conservation also needs smart technological upgrade just like the power sector. We moved to LED lights to conserve electricity, the same way we should move towards low flush toilets to conserve water.”
The government must also take better care of water bodies to ensure the procurement of water during drought years. “Better care of water bodies will play a crucial role in conserving water and also in making cities smart,” adds Sugam.
A report by WaterAid organization says, “Water, sanitation and hygiene services are seriously under-prioritized and under-funded by governments, particularly in rural areas.”
This is high time to change the situation and the onus is not just on the government but also on us. Use water judiciously because every drop counts.