More shocks

The Gujarat government turns a blind eye to the quake-ravaged water storage facilities. More bad news for a state facing its second drought

 
Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

for Gujarat's earthquake victims the future is parched. Amid the ruins of the state government's tall claims of putting in place a rehabilitation package, the state government has totally forgotten about the water storage facilities badly damaged by the earthquake. The result: Saurashtra and Kachhch will face a storage of water for irrigation and drinking purposes.

"Even if we get a normal monsoon, we will not have sufficient storage of rainwater," says Nafisa Barot, a member of Citizens' Initiative, a federation of some 200 non-governmental organisations ( ngo s) working for earthquake rehabilitation programme. Around 70 per cent of the surface water structures have been badly damaged in this area.

After five months of the tragedy, the Keshubhai Patel government has just limited its focus to immediate relief operation. Beyond that nothing has been done. "Immediate relief has become a long-term preoccupation of the government," says a senior official of the state irrigation department who claims that in at least five cabinet meetings the impact of the damages to the water storage facilities have been debated to be given the least priority.

In fact, the state government doesn't have details of damages to surface water structures and groundwater aquifers. Though reports have been pouring in about the same. A recent report of the Gujarat Ecology Commission, Vadodara -- Gujarat Earthquake: A Rapid Environmental Appraisal -- brings out the extent of damages to the state's environment due to the earthquake.

Already reeling under the second consecutive drought, there is every possibility that these areas will suffer another year of severe water scarcity. Only in mid-April, 2001, the state government put a tender notice for rebuilding 40 minor irrigation projects. Most of these small water storage facilities cater to irrigation and drinking needs of major towns and cities.

Moreover, the state government has not documented for the damages to small water harvesting structures in the earthquake-devastated districts. "It is evident that there is a case for integrating concerns of environmental management into planned rebuilding and reconstruction efforts in the earthquake-affected region," wrote Hasmukh Shah, chairperson of the Gujarat Ecology Commission in his introduction to the report.

The report has compiled details of damages in all the districts and has warned that if immediate steps are not taken to repair them it would be catastrophic. "This is more important in view of the forthcoming monsoon season," the report says.

Similarly the earthquake's impact on the groundwater is not clear due to the lack of proper data. There have been reports of sudden depletion of groundwater and also change in water quality. This is of prime importance given the fact that 90 per cent of groundwater is used for irrigation. According to the report, "Earthquakes can significantly affect the hydrological regimes, particularly the groundwater resulting in several direct and indirect consequences. The change in the hydrological regimes has direct bearing on the agriculture-based economy of the state."

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