Helping the drought affected

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People affected by severe drought need long term help. Just the advent of rains will not ease their woes, as they have to re-build their nil stocks of food and fodder. It’s the government’s duty to provide them substantial interim relief.

NThere is a widespread feeling that justice has not been done to the people affected by serious drought conditions in many parts of the country. This was also supported by verdicts of the Supreme Court in mid-May, which while giving directions for improved relief, also pointed out the glaring inadequacy of the relief work taken up so far.

There have been some indications that the Union Government has been reluctant to implement the wide-ranging and far-reaching recommendations of the Supreme Court. The reports appearing from several parts of the country still indicate that the relief effort in drought affected areas is far from adequate, and the distress suffered by people in areas like Marathwada and Bundelkhand is very acute.

However, there is also an additional apprehension that with the advent of the monsoon rains, some of the already inadequate drought relief work may be further curtailed. This may happen because in the narrow view of bureaucracy, with the advent of normal rains, drought conditions are over! Such a view however ignores the reality of most drought affected villages. Having lost two or more crops in the recent past, these villagers do not have any stocks of food grains, pulses and oilseeds in their homes, and there is also no stock of dry fodder or bhusa obtained from crop residues. In these conditions, when rains come, the shortage of food and dry fodder obtained from crop residues will still persist, till at least one normal crop is harvested. Even if this happens, food grown on their fields will become available only after about five months or so. However, even if weather conditions remain favourable, drought affected farmers will be short of funds to meet the costs of farming, and may have to borrow at a very heavy interest rate. Thus, even if they get a reasonably good harvest, a significant part of the earnings will be lost in paying back debts.

Of course, rains are welcome as water sources will start filling up again and the farm and dairy animals will be able to get drinking water and grass and leaves more easily, but as far as food for people and dry fodder for animals are concerned, these shortages will persist.

Due to this and several other reasons, the distress of badly drought affected villagers including landless persons will persist for a long time, even after the advent of rains. Of course, rains are welcome as water sources will start filling up again and the farm and dairy animals will be able to get drinking water and grass and leaves more easily, but as far as food for people and dry fodder for animals are concerned, these shortages will persist.

In fact, in many drought affected areas, it is becoming clear that this not a one-time drought, but rather a part of a much wider phenomenon of adverse and erratic weather in the ongoing phase of climate change. As such, the earlier expectation that one bad weather year is likely to be followed by a good year, may no longer hold true. In other words, we need much better efforts of adapting to climate change. So on the one hand, we have to campaign for the continuation of adequate relief work till as long as it is needed, but in addition we also need to campaign for a longer term, well planned effort for protection from more intense and prolonged droughts as well as heat waves, and overall better adaptation to climate change. This means that the government has to allocate much more resources for eco-friendly and organic agriculture, drinking water, watershed regeneration projects and protection from disasters. This also means that many-sided efforts including land reforms should be strengthened to reduce poverty and inequalities, as poor and deprived households are most vulnerable at the time of prolonged droughts and other disasters related to local factors as well as climate change.


Bharat-Dogra-C

Bharat Dogra

Bharat Dogra is a Delhi-based freelance journalist who writes on social concerns.

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