Drought-hit India dares to struggle in its own way

Sathi Devi, a 45-year-old housewife from Latur city of Maharashtra, starts her struggle to fill a dozen of steel vessels with water, at 1 pm. The hectic schedule starts as she switches from standing in the queue to daily household chores and even getting indulged in fights ignited near the community pipes.

All she need is to fill her pots during the expected water supply from 5 pm to 1 am. Around 330 million people in India are affected by drought, according to the government.

The Marathwada region in India’s western Maharashtra state is badly affected, reeling under the worst drought in decades. Around 400km from Mumbai, the region has been getting insufficient rains for the past three years.

The mercury level has increased 40Cs in some areas, with others only cooling to 38C at night. It is worse for the poor in rural areas, who are forced to drink whatever water they can.

Elsewhere in arid Vidarbha and Marathwada, multiple crop failures have caused wives to take the lead. They are facing up to taboos, braving stares and sniggers as they begin to work outside the home for the first time, selling bangles door to door to keep their children in school or trading in livestock so they can buy medicine.In 2015, the region received only 49 percent of what is considered a normal amount of rainfall. Some parts received even less: a meagre 35 percent of normal rainfall. Last year, heatwaves killed an estimated 2,500. This year, more than 100 have perished already. If a similar number were to die in, say, terrorist violence, a national alert would have been sounded.

Water has indeed become India’s scarcest resource, which isn’t just hurting the economy, but its people too. A back-to-back drought after failed monsoons has pushed large parts of the country to crisis point.

Last week a 12-year-old girl died of heatstroke after spending four hours gathering water from a hand pump in the neighbouring Beed district. Anjali had already spent more than two hours when I met her.

Water Trains

It was in January 2013 that Maharashtra first considered running water trains. It was again to provide water to drought-hit Marathwada. At a Cabinet meeting, then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said that initial discussions had been held with the Railways to arrange three wagons to transport 5 lakh litres of water daily.

Last year, as the drought in Marathwada persisted, the idea was thrown about again, this time to transport water to Latur from Pandharpur’s Ujani Dam, 190 km away.

Finally, when the government picked Miraj, Sangli, 342 km from Latur — the longest distance for a water train in India — to supply water, it was the most natural choice.

The water train to Latur, since named Jaldoot by Pune Divisional Railway Manager B K Dadabhoy, draws its water from the Krishna river downstream of Warna dam.

Draught Image (BBC)

From there to a Latur doorstep, it is a Rs 2.8-lakh, 25-hour operation now, for every run with 10 wagons. The wagons are clover-green in colour, having been delivered clean and freshly painted from the Railways’ Kota workshop. Eventually, the Railways plans to carry 50 wagons every trip.

United Nations’ Panel Report on Climate Change

The UN panel on climate change warning that Himalayan glaciers could melt to a fifth of current levels by 2035 is wildly inaccurate, an academic says.

J Graham Cogley, a professor at Ontario Trent University, says he believes the UN authors got the date from an earlier report wrong by more than 300 years.

He is astonished they “misread 2350 as 2035”. The authors deny the claims.

Leading glaciologists say the report has caused confusion and “a catalogue of errors in Himalayan glaciology”.

The Himalayas hold the planet’s largest body of ice outside the polar caps – an estimated 12,000 cubic kilometres of water.They feed many of the world’s great rivers – the Ganges, the Indus, the Brahmaputra – on which hundreds of millions of people depend.

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

India on April 22 signed the historic deal along with more than 170 nations, marking a significant step that has brought together developing and developed nations for beginning work on cutting down greenhouse gas emissions.

“Paris agreement is a historical achievement for mankind. All countries should implement it in letter and spirit. After signing of Paris agreement, developed world needs to immediately ratify the Kyoto Protocol second commitment period and should present enhanced pre-2020 actions,” Union Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said.

The minister also urged developed nations to announce their “enhanced” pre-2020 climate action plans and undertake the “urgent” task of mobilising $100 billion, lack of which will hamper implementation of nationally determined contributions of developing countries.

Drought Image 3 (Reuter )

“The second urgent task to be done is Mobilisation of $100 billion. Without this crucial mobilisation, many of the developing countries cannot implement their nationally determined contributions,” Mr Javadekar said.

He said the need of the hour is to lay out the complete institutional mechanism for building up on the Paris accord.

“The plan to work for the first meeting of Ad hoc group on Paris Agreement (APA) and additional works by Subsidiary Body for Implementation and Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBI/SBSTA)…should be prepared in consultation with all stake holders as issues covered under these bodes have a direct bearing on the Provisions of the Paris Agreement. There is a need for coherence between APA, SBI, SBSTA and other institutions,” he said.

Elaborating about India’s actions, Mr Javadekar said that coal cess which has been increased from 70 cents per tonne in 2014 to $6 per tonne in 2016 is a “bold” action and if developed countries follow India, they can easily mobilise $100 billion per annum, which has remained “elusive” till now.

He termed the government’s decision to tax polluting vehicles and incentivising electric and hybrid vehicles as a “major step in the right direction”.

“World’s largest program launched by India of 175 GW of renewable energy is on track. A new major initiative to expand metro network in next five years to 1,300 km from present 300 km is an ambitious initiative in providing clean public transport to more than 10 million commuters.

“LED bulb program has succeeded beyond any calculations and has already achieved 100 million target and in next four years it will achieve target of 700 million bulbs,” he said.

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