India has faced around 22 major drought years between 1871 to 2002. Forty-two per cent of the country’s landmass is drought-prone with the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Gujarat and Rajasthan often the worst affected.
The 2006-2007 drought had far-reaching consequences. A 19 per cent dip in overall rainfall affected over 60 per cent area under cultivation with 90 million Indians directly facing the consequences.
In the simplest terms, it can be said that fluctuating land and water temperatures, degree of air circulation and emphatic climatic change are the immediate reasons behind the threat of severe drought. With this unpredictable pattern of climate change, it becomes imperative that we deliver feasible solutions as soon as possible. But there is a deeper underlying issue that needs to be understood.
First and foremost, we must consider the deteriorating levels of rainfall that increase the chances of a region being affected by drought. Last year, the North-East monsoon failed us with a deficit of 45 per cent. Overall rainfall levels dropped by 10 per cent as a result.
In a country that is dependent on agricultural output, rainfall determines the livelihood of millions of people. But we hardly receive rainfall of about 100 hours out of a possible 8600 hours. Take the case of Karnataka, where we expect an average rainfall of 150 mm between the months of March to May. This year, we have received not even 40 per cent of that amount, which is worrying. And in 16-20 drought-prone areas in the state, the effects of this shortfall have already started showing.
Secondly, the El-Nino wave is causing unusual warming of the equatorial area over the Pacific Ocean. It makes Indian summers dryer and warmer, stunting rainfall levels.
Thirdly, an enormous increase in groundwater extraction results in reduced soil moisture. Groundwater tables have dwindled in the face of urbanisation. Between last year and now, 65 per cent of agro-forestry lands have been taken over for development purposes.
Climatically speaking, the increase of Carbon-dioxide in the atmosphere affects all cycles, mainly the distribution of rainfall. This year, an all-time high of 430 parts per million (ppm) of carbon-dioxide was recorded across the world. This poses a grave threat to environmental equilibrium.
The effects of a dry-spell are well known.
Droughts affect the demand and supply of water. For, farmers, whose livelihood depends on adequate rainfall, a deficit leaves them with no option but to migrate to different places and find other means to survive.This is the case with animals too. Whatever water is left, is also not completely usable due to pollution. This creates a shortage, the consequences of which animals have to face. Sheep and goats don’t get any fodder while farmers expect them to be like ‘ATM machines’ in terms of returns.
What we can immediately do is create awareness of the long-term consequences of our actions. In India, 60 per cent of districts are not prepared for a drought.
Animal health camps have to be undertaken to ensure that animals are not isolated during times of water scarcity. Since rainfall levels are something that can be monitored and not easily altered, it becomes important to devise alternative employment solutions coupled with skill-development programmes that would ensure that the incomes of the agro-community aren’t affected.
Additionally, crop insurance policies need review and strengthening from the part of the government.
In the long run, we must seriously deal with the problem of water depletion. Water harvesting is the only way we can preserve what’s left. During rains, refilling tanks, like in the case of Ramanagara and Channapatna in Karnataka, will help. In-situ rainwater harvesting is the best drought-proofing mechanism.
Other solutions include storing fodder and alternative crop seeds, soil conservation, consolidation of land ownership and revival of farm ponds and lakes.
More importantly, the pressure on the agro-community to deliver should come down. 57 per cent of lands feeds the Indian population. Instead, provide them with effective farm management technology. Tissue culture and drone technology will be helpful to achieve this goal.
Our scientific workforce must also expand and look at a reorientation of agricultural studies in the youth. We require a set of hands that will bring relevant and implementable solutions to the table through a comprehensive understanding of the issue.
There needs to be a perfect match between scientific skills, political will and administrative management to take on the drought.