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Monsoon Special

In drought-struck Marathwada, the wells have run dry

Radheshyam Jadhav | Updated on June 08, 2019 Published on June 07, 2019

What lies beneath: The groundwater level in 1,200 villages in Marathwada fell by 2-3m in October 2018, while another 1,948 villages saw a depletion of 1-2m   -  HAFIZKHAN PATHAN

In the parched region — most of which is in the Godavari basin — the monsoon is a reluctant visitor

It’s a little after noon. Nanasaheb Nemane and his friends are sitting inside a tin shed that acts as a Common Service Centre (CSC) at Kachner village in the parched Aurangabad district of Maharashtra’s Marathwada region. The newly set up unit is part of the Central government’s plan of providing the people with e-governance services such as online payment of water bills.

 

The centre’s owner, Haribhau Bhanuse, waxes eloquent about the functioning of the CSC, but Nemane and his friends are not enthused.

“There is no water and we have no money to pay any bills,” says Nemane tersely. The young men sit on their haunches, and look out into the horizon — as if waiting for someone or something.

It could be the monsoon, a reluctant visitor in this part of the state. If there is one regular caller, it is the drought.

Bhanuse carries on. “Everything can be done online now. You can connect to the world and get all the information you want. Computers are windows to the world,” he says. A worker of a political party, he dreams of making it big in politics by introducing “online services” to the villagers.

Nemane can’t take it anymore. “Is your online service going to bring water to the village? Is it going to give back my mosambi orchard? Is it going to stop farmer suicides? Is it going to stop our land turning into deserts,” he shoots at Bhanuse.

Bhanuse ignores him, but Ramesh Jadhav nods, agreeing with Nemane, who is now simmering with rage. His eyes well up, and his hands begin to shake.

“I have just lopped off my mosambi trees. The orchard had turned into dry wood without water. I don’t know how I am going to survive. The drought has destroyed us. Should I live or...” he murmurs. His voice trails off.

Like Nemane, many farmers in Kachner have mowed or burned down their mosambi orchards. With no water to nourish the plants, they believed their fruit trees could no longer be saved.

Parched future

With a population of 1.87 crore, most of Marathwada is in the Godavari basin. Except the Godavari, no major river flows in the region. Small rivers such as the Purna, Sindhphana, Bindusara and Shivna are almost dry through the year. This region is no stranger to droughts, but this year, the crisis has deepened. Government data show that against the normal rainfall of 682.9 mm, Marathwada received 534.6 mm rainfall between June and September last year, recording a rainfall departure of minus 22 per cent. Rainfall was deficient by 30-50 per cent in 40 of the 76 taluks. The groundwater level in 1,200 villages in the region fell by 2-3 metres in October, while 1,948 other villages saw a depletion of 1-2m.

“Frequent droughts, crop failures and poverty have turned this region into a farmer suicide zone. Farmers here have only two options. Commit suicide or migrate,” says Kaka Pardhe, a farmer from Aurangabad.

The Marathwada region witnesses three farmer suicides on an average every day. In the last five years, 4,700 farmers have killed themselves. Every summer, thousands of people migrate to the cities, especially to western Maharashtra and Mumbai, in search of livelihood; half of them never return.

Number speak: In the last five years, 4,700 Marathwada farmers have killed themselves, while thousands have migrated to cities in search of livelihood   -  RADHESHYAM JADHAV

 

“I have a plot of land near Latur but I am not able to cultivate anything because of water scarcity. Whatever we grow during the monsoon is not even enough to feed the family,” says a security guard in an apartment block at Kondhwa in Pune. He is not sure if he will ever go back to his village, and his family and friends are waiting to join him in the city.

“Nobody is happy to leave his home and live like a parasite in city slums. But we have no option as the rain continues to evade our region and the land is not yielding enough,” he adds.

Downward spiral

The United Nations (UN) warns that the situation is going to worsen. “A downward spiral is created in many underdeveloped countries where overpopulation leads to the exploitation of drylands for farming. These marginally productive regions are overgrazed, the land is exhausted and groundwater is overdrafted,” observes the UN on combating modern-day desertification and drought. “When rural land becomes unable to support the local population, the result is mass migrations to urban areas. The increased frequency and severity of droughts resulting from projected climate change is likely to further exacerbate desertification.”

Farmer Baliram Baglane has seen all this. “The future is bleak. The situation is worsening year after year and it seems that there is no solution,” says Baglane, sitting in a government-run fodder camp — where farmers can take cattle for water and fodder — in Beed.

Hard times: A government-run fodder camp in Beed, where drought-affected farmers bring their cattle for water and fodder   -  RADHESHYAM JADHAV

 

Baglane cannot understand why the entire region is turning more and more arid. The government’s 2016 ‘Desertification and land degradation atlas of India’ paints a bleak picture of the future. It states that Maharashtra has the second largest area under desertification/land degradation among all states; the desertification or land degradation has increased by about 1.55 per cent since 2003-05.

A study of Aurangabad district conducted in 2014 by MV Khire and YY Agarwadkar indicates that more than half of its area shows more than “mild desertification”.

Rainfall patterns are changing. Along with erratic rainfall, increases in the lowest temperature recorded are the parameters that increase the severity of desertification, the study observes.

According to the UN, desertification is the degradation of land in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas caused primarily by human activities and climatic variations. Desertification does not refer to the expansion of existing deserts. It occurs because dryland ecosystems are extremely vulnerable to overexploitation and inappropriate land use.

“Drylands are already fragile. As they become degraded, the impact on people, livestock and the environment can be devastating. Some 50 million people may be displaced within the next 10 years as a result of desertification,” the UN report states. About two billion people depend on ecosystems in dryland areas, and 90 per cent of them live in developing countries.

A long struggle ahead

The temperature is 40°C in Naldurg town in Osmanabad district and the State Transport bus-stand is overcrowded. A couple is trying to bid goodbye to their two children, who are weeping and trying hard to hold them back. “We will come soon. Go to your grandmother, go now,” the man says, pushing the children towards a feeble-looking elderly woman in tattered clothes. The young woman with the man looks away from the children and joins the crowd rushing towards a bus going to Latur.

The majority of the people boarding the bus will not come back — at least not till the arrival of the monsoon. The monsoon is slated to hit the region by mid-June, but no one knows what the future holds for them.

“People are moving out in search of a livelihood. If this (drought) continues, there will be no people left in many villages. I have seen many families leave their children with relatives or old family members. The drought has deprived children of their parents and childhood,” says Vaishali Ghuge, a farmer from Andur village in Osmanabad.

Steely resolve: Vaishali Ghuge decided to stay back and make a living in drought-struck Osmanabad   -  RADHESHYAM JADHAV

 

When Ghuge saw families leave their villages and children, she decided she’d never do that, but stay on with her husband and son and struggle for a living. She turned to vegetable cultivation after she realised there were many local varieties that demanded less water, and opted for traditional organic methods. But this was not enough to keep the kitchen fire burning. So, she developed vermicompost beds and started selling them. She experimented in horticulture and also increased livestock. Her vermicompost beds alone fetch her ₹1 lakh each year.

“I know this is not enough but, at the same time, it is not too little either. Instead of leaving our field and homes, we need to fight the drought. We have to find our own ways to fight this battle,” says the gritty woman.

Ghuge, who studied till Std IX, does not know much about desertification. But she knows she has to earn a living. And for that, she has to look at new ways.

On June 17 every year, the UN observes ‘World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought’ to promote public awareness of international efforts aimed at combating desertification and reminding people that the problem can be solved through strong community involvements and cooperation at all levels.

Ghuge has joined the movement; Nemane and his friends wait for the rain.

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Published on June 07, 2019
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