With no rains yet and the heat wave still on, the situation in Maharashtra’s easternmost region has everybody worried
Vidarbha, the easternmost part of Maharashtra comprising of 11 districts, is currently facing an extreme heat wave.
While the Mahrashtra government has already declared a drought-like situation in the state, Vidarbha is no stranger to heat and water crisis. High temperatures in this region are not unusual and people are habituated to summer temperatures reaching up to 47 degree Celsius.
But this year, the time span of the extreme heat wave has increased and people are facing more number of days with higher temperatures than previous years. Barring one or two districts, temperatures equaling 42 plus degrees have been recorded in all parts of Vidarbha since mid-May till the second half of the June.
While people are blaming excessive construction of cement roads and the felling of trees for development works initiated in the last five years, the situation is not much different in the rural parts.
The increased span of extreme heat has affected many in cities as well as villages. The biggest city in the region, Nagpur, has comparatively less water shortages than other places. Yet, many localities on the outskirts of the city are facing scarcity and water is being provided through tankers since the last two months.
Other districts too are facing the problem of water scarcity and at some places like Akola, Khamgaon and Yavatmal, water is being provided to people after a gap of 15-20 days.
Big and medium dams and other water reservoirs including lakes have no water or very less water which can only satisfy the need of cities and towns only for a few more days. While bigger places are in a better shape, the situation has worsened in rural areas.
The heat wave and water shortage have made people toil for water. Men, women and children are walking for more distances to fetch water.
Vidarbha has the largest area in Maharashtra under forest cover and a substantial tribal population. Hilly areas like Melghat, which is a tiger reserve, do not have enough water to satisfy the needs of tribals and other forest dwellers.
“Villages in Melghat are facing acute water shortage as long queues can be seen at public water taps and borewells,” said Melghat-based tribal activist Pournima Upadhyay of non-profit ‘Khoj’.
“People are spending hours to fetch water every day. To tackle water scarcity and develop local water resources, they are forced to spend collective money. Works of deepening bore wells are going on. At some places, solar pumps have been installed but there is no water supply to villages from government sources. At some villages, people have no other option than fetching water during late night, midnight or very early morning hours,” Upadhyay added.
The situation is not much different in non-tribal villages and towns which are in the plains.
In rural areas, not all villages have lakes, wells and bore wells. People are forced to fetch water from rivers and nearby streams, which have already dried up or are on the verge. People are forced to dig into rivers or streams and find water to satisfy their thirst.
On June 1 itself, dams in the Nagpur division had just 8.65 per cent water. The situation has worsened since then. People are have dug bore wells up to a depth of 600 feet in Khamgaon, a traditionally drought-prone area and have not found any water.
People moving out
Vidarbha has been in the throes of farmers’ suicides and agrarian crises for more than two decades now. Increasing temperature and water shortage are hampering agriculture in the region.
Due to delayed monsoons and no water availability, the mathematics of Kharif sowing has already been disturbed and has added to the worries of farmers.
The heat wave is affecting the health of people. During the summer, less drinking of water and spending long hours in severe heat has caused illness among children and the elderly.
In the city of Nagpur, close to a 100 deaths have been recorded by government authorities due to sunstroke. Hardly any such records have been maintained in the rural areas.
While people traditionally use scarfs, eat and keep onions with them to avoid sunstroke, eat fruits like watermelons or cucumbers, there are still cases of ailments due to severe heat.
Water scarcity has resulted in the forced migration of people from the urban and rural parts of Vidarbha.
Families from some towns are shifting to cities like Pune and Mumbai. Due to non-availability of water, rural residents are losing the ability to take care of their livestock and being forced to sell them.
Migrations are happening from rural to urban and semi urban places in Vidarbha, other parts of Maharashtra and even out of the state. This has disturbed the lifestyle, families and livelihood of people, the results of which would be seen in the coming days.
With no rains yet and heat wave still on, the situation in Vidarbha has everybody worried.
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