What is the first thing that comes into your mind when you look at the image above?
When I saw this image for the first time, I thought what’s so special about this image? It’s just a cargo train transporting something. But when I read the story below the image, I was very shocked because this cargo train was transporting Fresh drinkable water.
This train had made the journey of 342 km from Miraj in south Maharashtra to the Latur in the southeast, to supply fresh drinkable water to the people of Latur. The train was aptly named ‘Jaldoot’. The literal English translation is ‘Water Messenger’.
Latur, with a population of about half a million, is one of the eight districts in the Marathwada region that were facing severe drought. The situation was thought to be so serious that in March, the state government had to intervene to prevent fights over drinking water.
So one thing is very clear that Drought is the main reason behind such a harsh situation. But what actually drought is? And how severe it can be?
According to Wikipedia, A drought is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric (below-average precipitation), surface water, or groundwater. A drought can last for months or years or maybe be declared after as few as 15 days.
Drought affects people in several ways. Access to clean water is essential for life and the sources of water like rivers, lakes, streams, groundwater die down during the drought. Without the presence of water, people must bring in enough water from elsewhere to survive.
One person studying these problems is Alexandra Cousteau, a National Geographic Emerging Explorer whose latest initiative is ‘Blue Legacy’. She started Blue Legacy to raise awareness that we live on a water planet and must take care of it. Cousteau, the granddaughter of the famed ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, believes that water will be a crucial issue in this century. She predicts that water problems such as drought, storms, floods, and degraded water quality will create “water refugees” people migrating in search of water. Cousteau stresses that we must do all we can to protect Earth’s valuable freshwater resources.
Impact of Drought
When we have a drought, it can affect our communities and our environment in many different ways. Everything in the environment is connected, just like everything in our communities is connected.
drought affects people’s health and safety. Social impacts include public safety, health, conflicts between people when there isn’t enough water to go around, and lifestyle changes. In extreme cases loss of life.
Drought also affects the environment in many different ways. Plants and animals depend on water, just like people. When a drought occurs, their food supply can shrink and their habitat can be damaged. Sometimes the damage is only temporary and their habitat and food supply return to normal when the drought is over. But sometimes drought’s impact on the environment can last a long time, maybe forever.
Farmers may lose money if a drought destroys their crops. Businesses that depend on farming, like companies that make tractors and food, may lose business when drought damages crops or livestock. People might have to pay more for food.
Droughts in India
Droughts are one of the oldest, scariest, and the deadliest natural calamities that have ever persisted in India. Drought and famines have claimed countless lives in the 18th, 19th, and even at the beginning of the 20th century. This is one phenomenon that has been prevalent in this country for ages. History has been the witness of such situations in past ranging from dried patches of land, waterless wells/ponds/canals/ rivers, parched sky, and unbearable conditions to live without anything to eat and not even a single drop of water to drink.
India has faced one of the deadliest famines of this world viz. the Bengal famine which has seen millions of people starving and collapsing for the want of even a handful of grain. India being overly dependent on monsoon for its irrigation and agricultural purposes, any failure on the front of the rainfall and water supply may cause havoc in this country with varied cropping patterns across the nation around the year.
Droughts in Maharashtra
Maharashtra in India has been in a constant state of drought since the year 2012. The region received lower rainfall during the monsoon season from June to September 2012 which resulted in the 2013 drought in Maharashtra. It was one of the worst droughts to hit the region in 40 years. The region has reported thousands of farmer suicides following the drought and the number is increasing every day. In just four months between January to April 2017, 852 farmer suicides have been reported by the government data. During the same span the previous year, 1,023 cases were reported. Marathwada region, which had experienced successive years of drought, reported 291 cases till April 2017, the figure in April 2016 was 375. The worst-hit areas in Maharashtra are Solapur, Ahmednagar, Sangli, Pune, Satara, Beed, and Nashik. Residents of Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Aurangabad, Jalna, Jalgaon, and Dhule districts are also affected by this famine.
The scientific solutions to eradicating this crisis can be found in methods of water conservation, water management, and environmental restoration. These are well-known solutions, propagated by experts for years.
However, the primary barrier to implementing these on scale lies in deep-rooted social fractures. Divides of caste, religion, political affiliations, and gender have prevented communities from owning this issue and finding purpose in solving it together.
Multiple sections within the society are putting in the efforts to fight against this situation. From the government, big organizations, NGOs, small groups to individual ones all are contributing to solve this problem.
Paani Foundation believes in the transformative power of collective action. We are convinced that only a broad-based people’s movement that brings the village community together, can face this crisis. Our mission is to create a drought-free and prosperous Maharashtra, by fostering social unity and providing scale to proven solutions and technologies.
From 2016 to 2019, they have hosted the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup, a competition for excellence in soil and water conservation. The competition created a platform for village communities to work together positively and joyfully to solve the problem of drought.
There is also a NAAM foundation which was started by Nana Patekar and Makarand Anaspure in 2015. It was a response to the apathy towards the devastating drought conditions and agonizing voices of farmers in Maharashtra. Rapid degeneration of villages in the wake of droughts, increasing farmer suicides, and constant water crisis, are the main issues that NAAM finds solutions to.
In the parched and cracked lands of the Marathwada region, where water, land, and income are scarce, a few women have braved the odds. Mentored and supported by Pune-based NGO Swayam Shikshan Prayog, these women are using newer farming techniques to earn a living and charting inspiring tales of success.
Artificial Intelligence can be a great accelerator of sustainable and responsible progress
Microsoft’s commitment to helping combat problems like desertification is its AI for Earth initiative, which plans to invest 50 million dollars to promote projects in which AI can accelerate the preservation of the environment.
In the southeast of Spain, Karim Claudio, data analyst at Cetaqua, participates in the AI for Earth program with the purpose of integrating Microsoft Azure machine learning tools with geospatial data analytics and machine vision techniques.
Only by working together as a unit, we stand a chance to counter the natural disaster. As we have seen many groups, organizations, individuals putting efforts to counter it. We can also contribute in an individual capacity.