A severe drought has forced thousands in India to migrate in search of water, leaving hundreds of villages vacant.
Even though India experiences water scarcity almost every summer season, this year’s drought has surpassed all previous records. Officials say it will have worse impacts on the country than the famine that took place in 1972, affecting approximately 25 million people.
Experts believe climate change and temperature increases have intensified El Niño weather patterns, which occur when surface water temperature rises in the Pacific Ocean causing heavy rainfall in some areas and more frequent droughts in others. India is one of the countries hit hardest by these changes. And its agricultural workers, who tend to be poorer, are particularly struggling with the extreme weather.
About 44% of the total population of India works in the agriculture sector, which has toppled due to the drought destroying crops and devastating livestock. About 80% of districts in the southern state of Karnataka and 72% areas in Maharashtra have been adversely affected by the drought and the resulting crop failure.
According to the Guardian, about 8 million farmers in the two states are struggling to survive, with many leaving the drought-hit area.
In the Marathwada region of Maharashtra, which many estimate to be the area worst affected by drought, 4,700 farmers have died by suicide in the last five years. In debt and unable to sustain themselves due to drought-related crop failure, many more have left their land and migrated to cities.
“I have a plot of land near Latur [in Maharashtra] but I am not able to cultivate anything because of water scarcity. Whatever we grow during the monsoon is not even enough to feed the family,” a man, now working as a security guard in Pune, told the Hindu Business Line.
Those who have stayed behind are mostly sick and elderly, unable to leave or fend for themselves. People remaining in drought-affected villages have resorted to drinking contaminated water from exhausted wells, desperate to access what little water exists and risking their health.
“Over the last one-and-half months, there has been a 50% rise in the number of patients suffering from diarrhea, gastritis, etc.,” Sandeep Deshmukh, a doctor at the Beed Civil hospital, told the Guardian.
“We have appealed to the people to boil drinking water,” he said, pointing to the consumption of unsafe water as the cause of the rise in water-borne diseases.
High temperatures are being seen across the country and severe heat waves have caused 36 deaths this year alone. The capital, New Delhi, recorded its highest temperature ever, 48 degrees Celsius, on Monday. The city of Churu in the neighboring state, Rajasthan, suffered from a high of 50.8 degrees Celsius this week, making it one of the hottest places in the world.
About 21 major Indian cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad are expected to run out of groundwater by 2020, according to a report by Niti Aayog, a governmental think tank. The report also suggests that 40% of India’s population will have no drinking water by 2030.
“Nobody is happy to leave his home and live like a parasite in city slums," the man working as a security guard told the Hindu Business Line. "But we have no option as the rain continues to evade our region and the land is not yielding enough."