Bundelkhand's cycle of droughts: is it man-made?

Study by National Institute of Disaster Management shows authorities neglected to break the cycle of droughts when rains were plentiful

By Jyotsna Singh
Published: Monday 09 June 2014

In 2011, residents of Bundelkhand experienced acute scarcity of water for agricultural and domestic use even though the region received above normal rains that year Drought in Bundelkhand region of central India has been a matter of concern for decades. A new study by National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) now gives a composite map of the drought which explains the reason for the region witnessing drought year on year.

The study shows that droughts are not a result of just climatic conditions, but also man-made.   "The composite map  is aimed at giving an overall scenario for drought in the region. The policies have to consider all of them together, an effort which has not been made earlier," says Anil K Gupta, associate professor at NIDM and principal investigator of the study.

NIDM undertook the study jointly with Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR) to understand the drought patterns and differential role of mitigation strategies in Bundelkhand in order to suggest strategies for future.

The research report—Vunerability Assessment and mitigation anlysis for drought in Bundelkhand region—threw up many more issues. It is to be noted that Bundelkhand comprises 13 districts—seven in Uttar Pradesh (Jhansi, Jalaun, Lalitpur, Hamirpur, Mahoba, Banda and Chitrakut) and six in Madhya Pradesh (Datia, Tikamgarh, Chattarpur, Damoh, Sagar and Panna). It covers an area of 7.08 million hectares (ha).

The report talks of three kinds of droughts—meteorological, agricultural and hydrological.

Gupta says the most important finding that has emerged from the study is about anomalies between different kinds of droughts. "The usual pattern is that first the meteorological drought—rainfall much below average—happens. It leads to agricultural drought in the same year because India depends on monsoons for agricultural production. If the meteorological drought continues for the second consecutive year, then the hydrological drought—below average water availability—occurs," says Gupta. "We have collected evidence that in Bundelkhand this pattern [cycle of drought] has been broken many times, indicating that there are lapses in the efforts made by the authorities to provide relief,"  says Gupta. For instance, reasons for lack of drinking water in 2011 were man-made as rainfall was ample.

In 2011, all the 13 districts of the region received above average rainfall. According to the state meteorology department, Banda district received 252.4 mm rainfall (214 per cent above normal) between June 1 and June 30. During the same period, Hamirpur recorded 253.9 mm rains (334 per cent above normal), Jalaun 266 mm (153 per cent above normal), Jhansi 266.1 mm (203 per cent above normal) and Mahoba recorded 185.2 mm rains (210 per cent above normal). Lalitpur was under the threat of floods with 644 mm rains which was 5.8 times (588 per cent) more than normal for the district. 

However, in the same year, residents of Bundelkhand experienced acute scarcity of water for agricultural and domestic use. "In other words, in that very year people faced hydrological drought in the region," says Gupta. He says systems have to put in place to conserve water during such times to be used in times of scarcity.

Funds not utilised

The expenditure from Bundelkhand package  by National Rainfed Area Authority, announced in 2007 for drought mitigation strategies, speaks for itself. Till November 2012, NRAA had received confirmation for completion of works worth Rs 179 crore out of Rs 1,005 crore allocated. This amounts to only 18 per cent of the total allocated fund.

Further, as on March 31, 2013, Madhya Pradesh spent 58.4 per cent and Uttar Pradesh 43.89 per cent of the funds. Rs 1,400 crore was allocated for the financial year 2013-14 under the package; how much of the funds were utilised and in what manner is still being ascertained.

History of neglect

J S Samra, CEO of NRAA, says that the situation in Bundelkhand has to be seen in the historical context of the region. "This has been a neglected area. After the revolt of 1857, which primarily covered this region, the British neglected development of the region as a punishment to the people. Even after Independence, the region had a number of dacoits which hampered development. Quality services could not be maintained for these reasons," says Samra. He says that both the states, treat posting of government officials to Bundelkhand as punishment postings.

"This should change. To motivate good officers to take up challenging job like managing a drought-prone region, the governments should provide incentives," adds Samra. He says the package is being implemented and a third party is monitoring the work. "They will come out with a mid-term performance report in few months," he adds.

Climate change impacts

However, climate change is not to be ignored. The climatic modelling experiments by United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) has predicted that temperatures are likely to be higher by about 2 to 3.5°C in Bundelkhand region by the end of this century. The impacts of drought years are already visible. In the past four to five years, there has been news of mass migration, starvation deaths, farmer suicides and even the “mortgaging” of women.

NIDM's recommendations

The report has made following recommendations:

  1. The percentage of industrial units in Bundelkhand is only 1.5 per cent as compared to 51.3 per cent in Western Uttar Pradesh. To create alternative employment, new small-scale and tiny units in 26 districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh and seven districts of Bundelkhand should be given capital subsidy.
  2. Agriculture is being promoted through irrigation, with less emphasis on promotion of dryland agriculture and reclamation of wastelands in the region. Dryland agriculture holds the key to departure from dependence on rain and rain-fed systems.
  3. The focus so far has been on major crops of kharif and rabi seasons. The emphasis should be on minor crops like essential oils, aromatic and medical plants, floriculture, fisheries, and dairying promotion integrated with wasteland development, animal husbandry and livelihood diversification programmes.


Feature: Drought by design: The man-made calamity in Bundelkhand

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