The shadow of a calamity

Among disasters, drought is the easiest to predict and manage. The Indian Meteorological Department's forecast of a "below normal" monsoon in 2003 -- a full six weeks in advance -- has sent out a terse warning: prepare to drought-proof the country. Coming at a time when India is just crawling out of the ravages inflicted by its worst drought last year, the forecast calls for proactive action from the government to face the impending threat

 
Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- among disasters, drought is the easiest to predict and manage. The Indian Meteorological Department's forecast of a "below normal" monsoon in 2003 -- a full six weeks in advance -- has sent out a terse warning: prepare to drought-proof the country. Coming at a time when India is just crawling out of the ravages inflicted by its worst drought last year, the forecast calls for proactive action from the government to face the impending threat.

Official estimates show that villages across the country are not in a position to survive another drought. The economic survey for 2002-2003 has already indicated low economic growth and hints that without a bumper monsoon, revival will not be easy. The planning commission believes the country needs three good monsoons to surmount the crisis precipitated by persistent droughts in the last six years. This makes it essential that we move beyond short-term drought relief mindsets to effective programmes for long-term relief against drought. We have said this quite often. We repeat it now. With growing concern and anguish.

However, Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh, in the first official reaction to the forecast, hinted of a ban on export of foodgrains as a drought management strategy. Last year, the government had opened the doors to its overflowing foodgrain stocks, but relief exercises were hamstrung due to a defunct delivery system and a convoluted public distribution system. The government must realise that strategies such as this are, at best, short-term panacea for the ills of drought.

Drought in India has become a historic reality and needs long-term proofing, rather than knee-jerk reactions. Currently, India is implementing its largest ever drought relief programme, with 19 states spending a phenomenal Rs 15,000 crore in just one year. Though this money is being spent on -- among other things -- reviving productive assets such as ponds and water harvesting structures, the implementation is as a short-term programme limited to the drought years only. These assets hold the power to insure our villages from drought by creating ecological security through the availability of water; their revival and protection should form the bulwark of a long-term strategy.

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