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Water shortage in India sees majority going to sugar cane plantations

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 22nd, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The nation of India is weathering through its most severe drought since 2009. A vast majority of the water that is available here is being diverted to India's "sugar belt," a notoriously water-intensive crop. The drought is dealing an especially hard blow to crops that go to feed cattle here, and there are worries that India's livestock will be drastically affected.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The India Meteorological Department has predicted less rain from June to September. "We expect 15 percent shortfall in the seasonal rains," L. S. Rathore, the director general of the department says.

"The cattle population would be adversely affected due to marginal availability of green fodders. But the food grains will be supplied through the public distribution systems to the families below poverty lines, which would help the families living in poverty to cope with the situation," Amar Nayak, a spokesperson for the development organization Action Aid says.

Four Indian states - Karnataka, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra are all facing drought-like situations.

One farmer describes the increasingly dire situation in many villages. "We are here because there is no water in our village . neither for the animals, nor for us. Our cattle get sugarcane, corn, fodder, dry fodder, green fodder; we get rice and pulses here,"

People are migrating in order to find water for their animals. "Farmers here are ready to buy fodder, pledging their gold," Chetna Gala-Sinha, the founder and president of the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank. "But ask us how and where to buy water?" The problem is not just money, but a lack of available water.

Women have since turned to the cattle camps and now the camp has given shelter to more than 3,500 families from the nearby villages. Looking like a small township in itself, the cattle camp is spread across five acres of land originally meant for the housing colony for poor villagers.

"Mismanagement of water" has seen all the local wells run dry. "Why? What do we eat there? Soil? There's no food, no water . We take this as our home. Death is inevitable, here or there. If our animals die, what are we left with?" a farmer asks.

India is naturally susceptible to drought. "Particularly in the areas removed from the core monsoon - that is in the northwest of the country - the average recurrence time of droughts is 8 to 10 years," Upmanu Lall, the director of Columbia Water Centre at Columbia University's Earth Institute says. "Severe droughts occur about every 30 years. The 2009 drought was not a major event."

The drought has left many here between a rock and a hard place. "The water tanker comes once in 15 days. My six cows need more than 200 liters of water every day. Where can we store this? If I sell my cattle, I will lose my lifetime savings," one farm woman says.

India's "Green Revolution" brought improved crop yields to India in the 1960s, but now the country faces a scarcity of water. Monsoon rains may come to give local farmers relief, but no one can predict with certainty when Mother Nature will release her bounty.

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