Saturday, May 1, 2010

Vidarbha on the verge of water riots-DNA

Vidarbha on the verge of water riots-DNA

Vidarbha on the verge of water riots

Poor monsoons, depleting water tables, and dams with no water have brought the 3,400 villages of Vidarbha to a water crisis the likes of which they have never seen before, writes Jaideep Hardikar

Mangi-Sunday, May 2, 2010 2:17 IST

Jaideep Hardikar

Sitting in the front yard of his hut, Babarao Turankar, 50, and his neighbours in Mangi village of south Yavatmal are engaged in deep discussion. Finally, one of them says, "Let's begin our search after lunch."
It's been more than a month since they began hunting for a well that has water, says an agitated Turankar, sarpanch (head) of the village. "So far we haven't found one source that will see us through this summer." The village's two wells and the three bore-wells that fed it are parched. They have gone dry for the first time.
Understandably, Mangi is in panic. Turankar says they need to find a well or a bore-well within 2km of the village boundary soon, because the only well that has some water left would run dry in another week.
"This is the first time," says the sarpanch. "Mangi has never seen dry wells before."
Mangi is by no means an isolated case. In Maharashtra, 20,000 villages are in acute drought, a situation described by the water supply and sanitation minister Laxman Dhoble as "very, very critical." In May it could turn ugly, he told reporters in Nagpur on April 29.
The situation is worst in Vidarbha's 3400 villages, as almost all the major reservoirs in the district are running at dead storage levels, from where the water can't be lifted into the streams. Yavatmal is the worst hit. Here, two of the 3 major dams have zero water storage at this time, and there's May to go.
A failed 2009 monsoon in Vidarbha came on the heels of two bad monsoons. Yavatmal's long-term average annual rainfall is 911 mm. In 2009, it received less than 450 mm of erratic rains in small spells. In 2007, it got 844 mm rainfall, and in 2008, 633 mm or 70 per cent of the average. "What we face in the middle of March every year, we were facing in October last," says the district collector Sanjay Deshmukh.
Adding to the meteorological drought is the hydrological drought, with the water table receding to disastrous levels. Almost every district has recorded a steep decline in water table: an average of 3-5 meters in five years, and a staggering 8-10 meters over a decade, according to the Groundwater Surveys and Development Authority (GSDA).
Over extraction, misuse and illegal 'water mining' have combined with other factors to push the water table ever lower. A failed monsoon only contributes to the problem."Not only has the days of rainfall reduced over the past few years, the water recharging has also been very poor," says Ulhas Band, a GSDA junior engineer at Amravati.
This particularly hot summer, in a region where 75 per cent of water supply schemes have shut down, water scarcity is driving the villagers to desperation.
"Almost every woman in our village will lose a lot of weight by the time monsoon arrives," says Ankita Chahare, 18, of Pachpore village in Zari tehsil of Yavatmal, as she prepares to fill her can at the only 'live' hand pump alive in the entire village. Chahare is a mother of one, and the hand pump she's working on summons water from several hundred feet.
It's 3 pm and the mercury is stuck at 45 degrees for the past 15 days or so. But this is Chahare's fourth trip at the hand pump. And she will be back again with her three canisters. And she makes these four trips three times a day, every day. Almost every woman - in this village and all over Vidarbha - spends four to five hours every day fetching water, often waling for miles. When Chahare's husband returns from work in the evening, she says, he also joins her with a can or two.
'City pipeline's our only source'
Pachpore is lucky in one sense: it actually has a working pump. The catch is that it is contaminated with fluoride. Villagers use this water for non-potable purposes and wait for a tanker for drinking water. Alongside this pump is a stream that has long gone dry. There is no trail of water; only a cracked wall of what must have been a substandard barrage. Like Mangi, for Pachpore, too, this running out of water is a first.
Most villages in Yavatmal are at the mercy of tankers that supply water from sources far away. Pachpore gets its water from a bore-well in Hiwra-Barsa village, 7 km away, and it is their only hope. "If my bore dries, they are done," says Suresh Bolenwar, a farmer activist of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, whose bore-well supplies 24,000 litres of water every day to Pachpore and two other villages, free of cost. Bolenwar prays his bore does not run dry. "Otherwise there will be water riots here."
In the saline tracts of Akola, Amravati and Buldana, the search for water is getting angrier.
"In some of our villages," says Vasudev Ingle in Kinkhed, Akola, "You can get water supply once in 10 or 12 days." Ingle and his fellow villagers now raid a pipeline that carries water from Katepurna dam to Akola city, every alternate day. "It is the only source available to us," he says, drawing water from the supply line's valve.
More than 200 villages in the saline tract, where ground water is salty and non-potable, the scarcity is frightening. Says Maya Ove of Dharel village, carrying three pots on her head, one on top of the other, "Hunting for water takes up most of our time every day." Even the livestock you see are searching for water. And there's little of it to be found anywhere.

Not a natural calamity
"For years, we neglected strengthening water sources and helping improve recharge," says a senior official. "Now we're paying the price."
This is not a natural calamity, avers noted water expert, economist and former planning board member, HM Desarda. "This is a structured, man-made disaster." The state, he says, is facing scarcity as a result of faulty planning and wasteful spending on unwarranted projects, which are benefitting only contractors and some ministers.
"Even dams are running out of water! Why?" he asks. Even if Vidarbha receives half its annual rainfall, it comes to 450 mm, he says. On a hectare of land, it means five million litres of water. "Even if you conserve and save 100 mm of it, it comes to a million litres."
The drought of mid-2009 really took its toll on people from February and March this year. In a single crop area like Vidarbha, where assured irrigation is barely 7 per cent, even the slightest aberration in rain fall or drop in water table means a sure disaster. Crop failure means up to 24 months without income. Two successive failures can easily break the back of most farmers in a region already beset by crises.
Already, the number of farmer suicides is beginning to rise once more, and outstanding debts - after the 2008 loan waiver sop - have shot up. According to the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, in the first four months of 2009, the suicide toll in the six districts of Western Vidarbha is close to 300.