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Humanitarian Response to Maharashtra Drought Disaster: Marathwada Case Study

The ramification of climate change has led to an upsurge in humanitarian aid in the fashion of providing basic sustenance like food, shelter and medical care. The aftermath is chaotically weighted against the impoverished poverty-stricken masses with the infinitesimal collateral assets to overcome climate shocks and stresses. Humanitarian relief can help to focus on the repercussions of climate-related crunches, but a massive escalation in international efforts is needed to alleviate and acclimate to global warming, curtail the liability of disasters and restrain the suffering. Paltry levels of precipitation over the years coupled with insufficient and irregular rain gave rise to precipitated drought conditions in western parts of India. It is the most distressed and has recorded moderate to severe drought conditions in most of its districts.

When societies are affected by drought, FAO caters for support to help them quickly get back on their feet and start producing food. In the aftermath of drought, cash transfer mechanisms are provided to the neediest and underprivileged people, while refurbishing vital irrigation framework, water reservoirs and feeder roads which will boost food production in the longer term. In the most drought-prone areas, people are provided with cattle to rebuild their herds and ensure they can keep producing milk as a source of income. Farmers are encouraged and provided with quality seeds and farming inputs as well as given new ideas about investing in drought-resistant techniques which can be adapted, in time for the next rains. Millets and other drought-resistant crops are also advised to be grown in regular intervals to avoid the scarcity of food shortage and famine.

More than fifteen per cent of the citizenry accounting largely for hundred and thirty million netizens, across seventy thousand villages and two hundred and thirty urban hamlets are affected due to drought. Women and children being the most susceptible segment of the drought-affected population. In the severely distressed areas, roughly sixty million people – including nine million children, one and half million pregnant women and lactating women –  comprise the high-risk group. The obligatory duty of walking long distances to obtain water often falls on women and juvenile girls. The livelihood of the rural population has also been affected as cattle have died from starvation and agricultural production has been threatened. As a result, seasonal migration was amplified, with whole communities going to nearby cities. of families found shelter, food, water, and some work in the government’s relief camps in the most affected districts.

The paucity of water has provoked the poor and marginalised sections with thousands of litre available water. With the emergence of drought, the level of salinity and fluoride has increased in all areas. The water tables have dropped below normal and are significantly very low. Handpumps operations have broken down in several places due to poor maintenance and excessive usage. Excessive pumping of groundwater to cope with drought impacts have led to groundwater depletion, which not only poses a serious threat but is also, an important concern of Maharashtra State.

In the Marathwada region, water scarcity is not rare in summer – although its severity is exceptional at times leading the Governments at central and state levels to be prepared and to develop and come up with contingency plans. One of the large-scale governmental strategies is to authorise relief camps where families were provided with work, shelters, food, and health care. Care and protection for women and children were a priority in these camps. They are provided with health care, nutrition and education.

With the onset of the monsoon, some of the relief camps start terminating and operations get ceased for a time being, the  Government, continues to seek support from international agencies, with its efforts to help the most affected population in the mid and long-term. Indeed, with the emergency phase being called off, after the onset of the monsoon, it is of utmost importance to intensify the root causes of the crunch and bring resolutions for the long run. Drought-prone states of Maharashtra need to develop strategies and policies and mobilise adequate resources to prevent future severe droughts.

In the lexicon of great needs, it has been imperative for United Nations to carefully design its assistance. While UNICEF, UNDP, UN Women along WHO released immediate assistance through its state offices, it was decided to focus on long-term assistance to help mitigate such situations in the future.

United Nation’s acknowledgement for drought mitigation in the affected areas is a methodology based on a swift investigation conducted through field visits and via series of dialogues with Government counterparts. The predominant objective is to equip immediate relief to women and children in the water distressed localities and to curb health issues, including epidemic outbreaks like famine, diarrhoea, malnutrition and dehydration. Instant relief operations are carried out by nodal agencies like UNICEF which significantly contributes to addressing major concerns such as availability of drinking water, primary health care for women and children nutrition and health.

United Nations-supported schemes for the availability of drinking water supplement efforts through tanker supply, revitalization of handpumps, power pumps and installation of new handpumps. WHO also expediated precautionary and remedial health care system through procurement of essential drugs, vitamin supplements, iron tablets, Oral Rehydration Salt packages, disinfection of drinking water and on-site sanitation facilities.

The mid-term frame of reference to bolster the availability of drinking water in rural areas: the classical long-established response to the drought-related dearth of water has been to devise new sources, further capitalisation of existing sources or bring water to improvised areas by tankers and trains. This technique of methodology has not been altered in the last several decades, although such mediations have failed to provide lasting solutions.

Sources of Drinking water can be maintained by administering substantial environmental protection and management of the water sources at regular monitoring, with the help of community participation. This can be enacted by rain-water harvesting at catchment areas through the systematic erection of check dams and other recharge methods of architectures. This also equips an alternate source of employment to the natives, as pastoral activities have ceased due to crop failure and fiasco in the loss of cattle. UNICEF campaigns strongly about the construction, maintenance and management of these structures should be upheld at the community level via the locally elected bodies like panchayat. At the household level, rainwater rooftop harvesting will be promoted as an option to ensure household water security.

In consultation with the State Governments and nodal governing agencies, the United Nations is determined strongly to aim attention at its efforts in the mid-and long-term results to devote to drought prevention. Indeed, empiricism at the grass-root status depicts that planning at the micro-level, involvement of the localities and community-based solutions, will allow interior villages and hamlets to prevent the detrimental fallout of water scarcity. Along with the Government and civil society, Unicef works constantly to support these causes and to develop a stable and safe environment and policies. At the end of May 2000, UNICEF led a joint UN mission to identify long-term initiatives.

For a sustainable long run, UNDP, are engaged in functioning side by side with the state governments to expedite and promote the evolution of adequate and competent policies and programmes for drought-prone areas. It comprises facilitating the decentralisation and fragmentation for better management of water sources at the individual and community level. The ultimate challenge is to maintain the higher interests and greater good for all by the decision-makers in issues on water, after the onset of monsoon and termination of drought. In Maharashtra, at the request and initiative of the state government, UNDP along with various UN nodal agencies continues to support the development of a white paper on water management.

To be legitimate, impartial, principled and fair, the government has been proactive in dealing with matters related to the drought situation, but a lot more can be achieved with the advancement of science and technology. To date, the focal drought preparedness proposal and procedure consist of just donating money in the name of ministerial funds or alternative packages to the affected people. Also, the cattle shades, school programs, women empowerment schemes and initiatives are mostly undertaken by CSR or stakeholders other than the government. They do provide water by tankers or by using train water supply, but serious examination should be about the feasibility of such measures prevailing in modern times. We can utilise and call for action new water harvesting technologies to save water during the monsoons. For instance, cash crops that require lots of precipitation intake should be cultivated depending upon the availability of water. Also, the usage of green or natural pesticides and the practice of local HYV seeds should be given utmost preference over western technologies. Also providing insurance will be a great help to the farmers apart from setting up local agricultural banks which will provide loans to farmers.

For projects on large-scale water harvesting, they can rely on NREGA schemes, which will give them an interim livelihood and sustainability in the future.  The alignment of NREGA with agricultural programmes and allied sectors will lead to enhanced yields. The scope of works under NREGA is under expansion to include lands of small marginal farmers, it is now possible to significantly enhance the irrigation potential in rain-fed areas and drought-proof small-holder agriculture, leading to sustainable and higher yields.

The main aspiration of the NREGA proposal is to implement complementing recruitment chances with the auxiliary objective of eco-restoration & renewal of the natural resource base for viable rural livelihood. This will aid in transparency and accountability to permeate rural governing bodies, leading to the calcification of grassroots level democracy. The following water-based projects are listed under the domain of the NREGA scheme for drought preparedness.
• Water harvesting
• Desalting of tanks
• Micro and minor irrigation works
• Renovation of traditional water
• Provision of irrigation facilities bodies
• Flood control and protection works.

 Directions and guidelines given in the program are aligned to SFDRR priorities. The AIDMI team is devoted to achieving activities mentioned in the proposal in AIDMI’s ongoing projects and activities. The NDMP provides a framework and guidelines to the governmental agencies for all stages and aspects of the disaster management cycle. The NDMP is a “dynamic report” in the sense that it will be improved regularly keeping up with the ongoing global best practices and knowledge base in disaster management in lieu to the provisions of the Disaster Management Act, 2005, the guidance given in the National Policy on Disaster Management, 2009 (NPDM), and the established national practices with the country.

Poverty and risk to disasters are inextricably linked and mutually reinforcing. The poor section of the society is worst affected in case of disaster. The situation further aggravates due to the compulsion of the poor to exploit environmental resources for their survival, increasing the risk and exposure of the society to disasters, in particular those triggered by flood, drought and landslides. Poverty also compels the poor to migrate and live at physically more vulnerable locations, often on unsafe land and in unsafe shelters. These inhabitations of the poor at such locations are either because there is no other land available at a reasonable cost or it is close to the employment opportunities. The inhabitants of the poor people on marginal land are prone to all types of disasters. The type of construction of these houses further deteriorates the condition. These dwellings made up of low-cost material without giving much consideration to technical aspect are easy targets of various hazards.

 Drought is a recurrent phenomenon in Maharashtra State. Recently Maharashtra State has experienced a drought of moderate severity which commenced in 2011 and continued, expanded and further deteriorated into 2012. This drought, along with the other droughts that have occurred previously, threatened the agrarian economy of the Maharashtra State and caused considerable social and economic impacts on farming communities. Farmers were aware of the drought and also well perceived the various socio-economic and environmental impacts of drought in the Upper Bhima catchment. Failure of agriculture subsequently resulted in a lack of employment for unskilled labourers, which further exacerbated their livelihood situation and ultimately weakened the financial situation of farmers. Poor farmers affected by drought could not afford to participate in the celebration of festivals and showed a common tendency of postponement of wedding ceremonies due to drought. Less-educated farmers reported that drought-driven water scarcity has caused conflicts in society. It is also found that farmers from frequent and severe drought-affected areas considered drought as the main cause of suicidal tendencies due to lower incomes and high indebtedness. Environmental impacts of drought were perceived to be high to very high.

To mitigate the drought impacts farmers used various drought preparedness and adaptation measures. With the anticipated drought, farmers stored crop harvest (grains), stored crop residues for livestock, saved money, migrated for employment, sold livestock for income generation (and also because they were unable to provide food and water for the livestock), and sought an alternative source of income through employment under NREGA, labour for local construction work, sand mining etc. Although farmers were familiar with autonomous adaptation options in agriculture, less preference was given to their adoption. It is found that low education, small landholdings size and low incomes were major constraints in the adoption of these adaptation strategies discussed earlier.

Recurring drought is a major challenge in the Drought Prone Area of Maharashtra State in India. Agriculture (e.g., rainfed cropping and livestock) is the primordial income activity of over 64% of the state’s population. The objective of this case study is to grasp and comprehend the rural farming community’s perception of drought impacts on their socio-economic activities and environment, their adaptation at the household level and opinions on government drought mitigation measures.

Special attention should be given to while designing and formulating policies for increasing community resilience to future drought events. Also, the extent of irrigation was found to not affect the farmer’s perception of drought impacts and adoption of adaptation strategies, mainly due to a prolonged drought with moderate to severe intensity over the whole catchment. Emphasis should be given to water harvesting techniques to increase the extent of irrigation coverage. Besides household-level adaptation measures, administrative strategies played a very crucial role in adapting to drought. As a response to serious drought events in the state, the government has undertaken various relief measures. It was observed that the mitigation measures provided relief to affected households to some extent, but the level of satisfaction was still low amongst beneficiaries due to ineffective planning and management.

Responses to drought in Maharashtra. States are generally receptive under the conclusion of crisis management and poorly implemented strategies due to lack of coordination. Hence, the state calls for a change from a cognizant crisis management strategy to a more proactive game plan. This is persistent with the findings from other countries as examples through which lessons can be learnt for a greater cause and existing strategies ought to be considered for implementation in India. The case study is based on both secondary and primary data collected via a survey of 223 farming households. The results show that a decrease in the yield of cereals, horticultural crops, livestock production and loss of employment, all associated with decreased income of farmers, were the most immediate economic impacts of drought.

The NDMP assimilates substantively the technique enunciated in the Sendai Framework and help the country to meet the goals set in the framework. Equivalent water-based projects can also be used in climate change adaptation through community involvement and as means of conscious choice of livelihood. Conservation technologies should be stress-tolerant whereas providing climate-resilient varieties of seeds, drip irrigation, zero-tillage methods of agriculture, raised-bed planting, laser-levelling, Systems of Rice Intensification (SRI), can build flexible capacities to adapt with increasing water exploitation and shortage, providing “more crop per drop”. Similarly, strengthening land development practices such as land levelling, conservation bench terracing, contour and graded bunding, and pasture development prevent soil erosion and loss of organic matter. Reclamation of wastelands and degraded lands together with afforestation, horticulture plantation and agroforestry has the potential to sequester carbon both above and below ground, thereby contributing to carbon mitigation. Also, other projects such as land development, horticulture and road network development can be used for climate change adaptation in a drought situation

Conclusion :

Based on the findings for this study, the following recommendations are provided to improve farmers’ resilience and to enable farmers and governments to better

combat future droughts:

  • Promotion of various micro (farm) as well as macro (National) level adaptation strategies amongst farmers with the help of government officials to cope with drought.

  • Developing, introducing and implementing water harvesting practices at the community level and in situ water harvesting practices such as conservative agriculture should be introduced through community participation
  • During drought, about 75% of farmers use flood irrigation practice to irrigate their crops.
  • To save wastage of water, traditional flood irrigation practices should be changed to water-saving irrigation practices such as sprinkler or drip irrigation

  • The introduction of crops that consume less water and drought-resistant varieties of crops should be explored as a way of increasing resilience against drought and reducing crop failure in dry spells

  • Television, radio and newspapers should be used as a tool to disseminate weather information to the larger community about the current and predicted  state  of the drought and also drought adaptation practices

  • Although there are government drought relief measures, community-based effective planning, implementation and management should be done to overcome the failure of the relief measures.

Written by Anamitra Banerjee



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