NEYYAR DAM: A hot wind blows. It blows along the parched bed of the reservoir and on the old woman who stands in the middle of it, pointing upwards to the irregular line of houses on the far bank. “There. Normally the water goes up till there,” says the 66-year-old. Then, ignoring the sultry mid-morning sun, she turns to water the dozen or so cassava stakes planted by her neighbour on the dry bed.
It’s still January, but in Pantha near the Neyyar dam, 35 km east of Thiruvananthapuram city, the drought has already begun flexing its muscles. So much so that the residents are fearful of even contemplating the impending summer.
With the outer expanses of the dam reservoir drying up, they have to walk far for potable water. In this region, water scarcity has become a frightening reality well before the summer.
“Just two weeks ago, there was a little water left in this reach. Now we are struggling to find water. The supply from the Japan-aided scheme also has dried up,” says Usha, another resident, crossing the small bridge linking Pantha to Mayam and Amboori. With the water vanishing, small patches of amaranthus and cassava have sprung up on the reservoir bed, an attempt by the locals to reap something out of their troubles.
Mottled green water shines in the holes dug in the parched earth to access water.
Closer to the banks, on higher ground, youngsters have erected football goal posts. Dirty puddles remain trapped among the rocks, but they too will evaporate as January fades into February and March. “The last two years, we had water in the reservoir even during the summer. Something like this happened 20 years ago, though. The water had retreated even farther then. I remember walking a long way in that direction to collect it,” recalls Sheherban, a housewife, pointing beyond the goal posts.
The reservoir started drying up three months ago, adds Shyla Beevi, her neighbour. A few kilometres away, at Randamathechirappana, Rajan squats half in the water, washing clothes. A steep granite embankment rises from where he sits to the road. “See that yellow mark? That’s where the water line is normally,” he points up the slope. Entering the reservoir is a tricky proposition any day, but more so during this time of the year.
“There are crocodiles here, and January-February is their breeding season. They like to nap in the boggy parts. You have to be careful,” he says. Closer to the Neyyar dam - which, incidentally, is a potable water source of the state capital - the sight from atop an observation tower is telling. Water sparkles in the reservoir, but it’s level has dipped well below the tree lines on the opposite banks, and, in places, sand bars are visible above the surface. Last Wednesday, the state government had sanctioned Rs 97 lakh - part of a Rs 61.13 crore drought-relief package - for supplying water to crisis-hit areas in Thiruvananthapuram in the summer. Whether it would benefit the villages in the neighbourhood of the dam remains to be seen.