Clueless in drought

Everybody loves a good drought. Few understand it. Especially the Indian media

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

Indians have lived with drought since time immemorial. Communities have built water-harvesting structures and learnt to treasure the value of every raindrop. All this has been done keeping in mind that it does not rain throughout the year and it may not rain next year. Therefore it would not be wrong to say that the Indian media has no sense of history. The media's reaction to the drought is the same as their reaction to a fire or a gas leak tragedy. They are treating it like a catastrophe, not as a process that needs to be managed. To begin with when other sections of society were talking about the drought as far back as October, the mainstream media woke up to it a few weeks ago, that too because water riots broke out in Gujarat resulting in casualities. Something the media understands. Next came a flood of drought-related stories in the press. But the understanding of the crisis was in the disaster mode and the issues that were raised were about disaster relief, almost as if they were talking about a cyclone or an earthquake. One nearly expected tv reporters to ask questions like what is rain, followed by what is drought and then talk about casualty figures.

But a drought is not a catastrophe. It can be managed. As part of this process communities try and anticipate the crisis. They do so by taking measures to conserve and harvest water. Water use is regulated. Where the ecology is fragile, farmers desist from planting water-intensive crops like sugarcane and rice. More than 60 villages have proven that drought is a myth and that this system works in the Alwar district of Rajasthan and the Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh. Even in this drought there is water for drinking and irrigation in the wells out there.

While it is good that the media has finally woken up to the drought they should try and cover it more as a process than as an event. There should be a post-drought coverage as well so that issues of water and the role of communities in managing it are kept under public scrutiny. We don't need drought relief but relief against drought.

Then also there should be an analysis of what goes on in the name of drought-relief measures. There is a story that dates back to the time of the Nawabs of Avadh. The kingdom was experiencing a severe drought. As part of the drought relief work it was decided that a palace be built in Lucknow. The people were provided with work and food. Even the nobles and high officials were provided with work. While the workers were paid for raising the walls during the day, the nobles were paid for pulling down the walls at night as it would be beneath their status to be seen mingling with the common folk. Everybody loved the drought.

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