Natural Disasters

Maharashtra heads towards a drier drought

While last year, the state’s 14,679 villages were hit by drought, this time 20,000 villages are already facing drought-like conditions

By Nidhi Jamwal
Published: Friday 19 October 2018
Drought Maharashtra
An official drought announcement is expected by month-end. Credit: Getty Images An official drought announcement is expected by month-end. Credit: Getty Images

The Maharashtra government has identified 201 talukas in 32 districts that are facing water scarcity owing to deficient rainfall in the southwest monsoon season.

As per a preliminary list of drought-affected areas, which is available with the Down To Earth, maximum drought-affected talukas are in Jalgaon district (13) followed by Ahmednagar (12), Beed (11) and Solapur (11). The situation is grim as only four of the total 36 districts in the state are out of the drought’s purview, for now.

According to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, more than 20,000 villages in the state are facing drought-like conditions. Marathwada region seems worst affected. The state government has already started field-based drought assessments and calculations of crop yield losses in affected talukas. An official drought announcement is expected by month-end and the state government may also approach the Centre for drought relief.

Crop loss

Last kharif (summer crop) season, 14,679 villages in Maharashtra faced drought. “At present, the entire Marathwada region is in the grips of drought. Availability of drinking water has already become a challenge as dug wells have dried up and bore wells are also fast running dry,” said Mohan Bhise, former agricultural officer of Latur district in Marathwada region.

Already more than 500 villages in Marathwada are dependent on water tankers to meet their drinking water needs, said Manik Kadam, president of Marathwada division of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ organisation in Maharashtra. Marathwada region falls in semi-arid, drought-prone zone. Just two years ago, in 2015-16, the region faced an unprecedented drought.

“Because of lack of rains, especially in the month of September, and long dry spells, 40 to 50 per cent yield of soybean crop in light soil areas [with low water holding capacity] of Latur district has been reported lost. In black cotton soil areas, the yield loss is up to 25 per cent,” said Bhise. According to him, old plantations of sugarcane in Latur, too, have suffered 65-70 per cent yield loss, whereas new plantations have reported 40 per cent yield decline.

Meanwhile, situation is no better in other districts of Marathwada. For instance, in villages of Parbhani, farmers have reported up to 70 per cent decline in soybean crop yield and about 60 per cent reduction in Bt cotton crop yield, said Kadam. A formal assessment of crop yield losses in affected districts is underway.

“The district officials have started drought survey in our area for calculation of annewari/paisewari, which is Maharashtra’s own method of drought calculation,” said Gajanan Divekar of Waghapur village in Yavatmal, which falls in Vidarbha region.

Both Marathwada and Vidarbha are notorious for high farmer suicide rate in the country. “As against a normal output of six to seven quintals cotton per acre, we have got only one to two quintal this kharif season. Similarly, soybean yield is three to four quintals per acre against an average yield of seven to eight quintals per acre,” he added. There will also be a sharp decline in rabi (winter) crop sowing due to deficient rainfall and low soil water moisture, warned Divekar.

Deficit rainfall

The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD) southwest monsoon rainfall data shows that against a normal rainfall of 682.9mm, the Marathwada region received 534.6mm rainfall between June and September months. Thus, recording a rainfall departure of minus 22 per cent and classifying as a ‘deficient rainfall’ meteorological subdivision. The other regions of the state have reported deficient rainfall too. For instance, Madhya Maharashtra and Vidarbha regions had minus 9 per cent and minus 8 per cent rainfall departure till the end of southwest monsoon season. At state level, against a normal monsoon rainfall of 1007.3mm, Maharashtra received 925.8mm, thus recording rainfall departure of minus 8 per cent.

“These cumulative rainfall figures are deceptive, as they do not reflect the ground reality. Even within a district, there is huge rainfall variation, which impacts the soil moisture, crop growth and severity of drought,” said R R Kelkar, a meteorological scientist and former director general of IMD.

Measures being taken

To curtail water crisis and an impending drought, the state has already started securing the existing water sources for rational water use. But, Marathwada is already in a water crisis. According to the live water storage data of Maharashtra Water Resources Department, as of October 18, reservoirs of large projects in Marathwada have only 26.63 per cent water. Last year, same time, they were 78.53 per cent full. Medium and small-scale projects in the region have 22.39 per cent and 22.35 per cent water only. And, this is the only water the region has to survive on till the arrival of the next southwest monsoon, which is still seven months away.

“Manjara dam, the only source of water for Latur, has only dead storage water, which will now be rationed for drinking water only. Manjara river is bone dry and so are all the barrages on the river,” said Bhise. Two years ago, in April 2016, ‘water train’ was sent to Latur as Manjara dam had completely dried up. “Without water, how will we survive for the next over 200 days? We are already waiting for the next southwest monsoon,” Bhise added.

Keeping in mind the building up of El Niño, which is associated with reduced southwest monsoon rainfall in the country, the worries of Maharashtra’s farmers may only accentuate next year.        

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