Rain shortfall bodes severe hardships and dangers for India
April 21, 2007

By Abraham M. George

Experts are predicting that the worsening climate change from global warming will result in lesser rainfall in regions close to the equator. India, Bangladesh and Pakistan are among the South Asian countries that are likely to be severely impacted. These countries depend on rainfall for much of their crops, and they have not utilized major rivers that run from the Himalayan ranges and other rain-dense sources for supplying water to interior areas. For many years there has been talk about diverting rivers like the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, and building dams, but thus far nothing has been initiated. There are no major projects underway to supply water from rivers to
water-scarce areas through large pipelines. These projects take anywhere from several years to decades to complete, even if a plan is agreed upon by all parties. Successive central governments have been less than transparent about their plans, and only those private companies who might be beneficiaries of the potential work on design and construction seem to know what is being contemplated, if anything.

Water shortage is already affecting crops in many areas within several states in India. Pressured by money-lenders, some farmers have abandoned their land in search of immediate income from employment in the cities. Stories of farmer suicides are now heard more frequently. Government assistance by way of subsidies and employment guarantees is increasingly becoming their last main hope. With over 700 million people living in India’s villages, and most of them depending on agriculture, it is far from certain that handouts are sustainable. It appears that the projection made two decades ago by a major research institution in Los Alamos, U.S. that climate change and rain shortfall might be among the five gravest dangers to hundred of millions of people is beginning to come true. The report went on to add that desperate rural population might be forced to move into prosperous urban areas, occupying even five-star hotels!

The other day I read an op-ed column by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times about drought in some of the tall-grass lands of Africa where wild animals have for centuries made their habitat. I wrote to him about the drought conditions in Hosur Taluk, Tamil Nadu, for the past 5-6 years. When I first started our humanitarian projects in that area some 11 years ago, I was told that rains were fairly predictable in April,
June-August, and November-December. The lake close to where we built Shanti Bhavan, the residential school for children from poor homes, was literally overflowing when I came to purchase the land for the school. Today, this lake and others in the area are mostly dry. There has been very little rain in recent years, and our attempts to gather ground water with collection pits (a major check-dam constructed and over 100 collection pits made in an area of 100 acres) don’t seem to be sufficient. Small farmers who depend on raggi grain grown once a year are not able to support themselves.

To make matters worse, farmers who depend on well water and free power for the pumps find both in short supply. Without sufficient rain for several years, ground water levels are going down, forcing many to dig deeper wells and use more powerful pumps. With little water outflow, pumps have to be run around the clock to meet the needs. As every well is pumping, the result is power shortage and lower voltage. Many pumps don’t function properly when voltage falls, causing even further reduction in water pumped for the crops. Today, power cuts for several hours in a day are common, and we are forced to run diesel generators to meet the needs of our school and farms. Unless sufficient rains come this year, the situation is likely to worsen to conditions that might cause severe hardships and social unrest.

I do not know what the state and central governments are planning to do in addressing water and power shortages in rural areas. Today nothing appears on the horizon, except some passing clouds.


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