The water train to Latur has captured everyone’s attention. As a train carrying 5 lakh litres of water trundled into Latur station on Tuesday morning, news cameras were there to record the moment. After long weeks of seeing Marathwada’s drought crisis go from bad to worse, here was some relief for the parched district.
Water trains have been used in other parts of India, like in Saurashtra in the mid-’80s and the early 2000s, and they are less of a solution to a crisis and more a Hail Mary pass. But the train to Latur seems to have captured Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s imagination enough for him to appeal to the city’s residents to save water to send to Latur. Kejriwal even wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday offering to send 10 lakh litres of water every day for two months to Latur and asked the central government for logistical help. In doing so, Kejriwal might have forgotten that Delhi needs to hunker down for a long summer. India’s meteorologists have forecast an above normal monsoon across the country this year. But the monsoons arrive only in June and the drought through April and May looks like it will only get worse before things get better.
While the chief minister is watching Latur, the Delhi Jal Board is drawing up its summer action plan to prevent water shortages that includes deploying a fleet of 950 water tankers to maintain a supply of 900 million gallons per day. In the past year, more than 200 new colonies have been added to Delhi’s piped network, adding to the pressure on the water supply system. In pumping 900 million gallons of water every day into Delhi, every 260,000 gallons (10 lakh litres) counts.
Drought myopia beyond Latur?
Even if Delhi did comply with the chief minister’s request and all of Delhi saved up enough water to donate the overflow, there are other parts of the country as parched as Latur or getting there very fast. Tikamgarh district of Madhya Pradesh, which is about a third of the distance from Delhi that Latur is, is part of the drought- and famine-hit Bundelkhand belt. Armed personnel are now guarding water taps and wells in villages across the district to prevent water thefts and riots, according to news reports that add that only a little over 100 of the 451 tap water schemes in Tikamgarh still function. The others have all gone dry.
Much of the area around Delhi is fast running dry. The latest data from the Central Water Commission that the six reservoirs for Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan have only 4.25 billion cubic metres of water, which is a quarter of their capacity and 6% less than the average level for the season.
There is a growing need for water in many parts of the country – the 117 tehsils of Chhattisgarh that were declared drought-hit last September, Saurashtra where the regions 137 dams are only 12% full, the 400-odd mandals in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana where more than 100 heat-related deaths have already been recorded.
North Karnataka has been in the grips of the heat wave and water shortage since the end of February. Now villages further south in Mandya are running dry and even the district administration’s plan to dig new borewells to supply water in 35 villages is failing. Of the 40 borewells dug, 17 remain dry, according to a news report in The Hindu. All 85 villages of the district face a severe potable water shortage and the government is resorting to a combination of tankers and private borewells to keep water supply going.
Here’s a look at areas in north, west and central in India where people are scraping the bottom of the barrel for water and have few guarantees on how to get by for the next two months. This is not an exhaustive map, as more districts hit crisis levels and might need to be declared drought-affected.
What parched districts need is not a water train as a quick fix but long-term solutions in terms of rural infrastructure for drinking water. Unfortunately, funds for rural water programmes have been drying up. The Times Of India reports that budget allocation for drinking water programmes over the past four years has decreased from around Rs 10,500 crore in 2012-’13 to Rs 4,260 crore in 2015-’16. The amount earmarked for the current fiscal is only marginally better than last year at Rs 5,000 crore.
Farmers in Warangal villages seem to be determined now to make structures to save water on their own. There are already preparing for the monsoon that is a month-and-a-half way by digging water harvesting pits in their houses and fields, near borewells and hand-pumps in the hope that the structures will help shore up rain water, recycle waste water and stop groundwater depletion.
Meanwhile, the intense heat in the eastern part of India claimed another life and is making life harder for those in need for government assistance. A 12-year-old girl who visited a state grievance cell in Dharmasala, Odisha, to claim Rs 4,000 as medical assistance collapsedin the heat and was declared dead when she reached a hospital. The Odisha government has ordered all grievance cells to be shut and for people to reach out for assistance through telephone or internet.