The government’s overwhelming priority should be to arrange adequate water as soon as possible for the health of the villagers as well as the animals.
11-year old Rita of Bihar village in Mahoba district, Uttar Pradesh, fetches water from a distance of over half a kilometer three times a day, carrying two pots each time. This is a new responsibility thrust upon her after both her parents migrated, leaving her and her aged grandparents to look after themselves. There are several children in the village like Rita, who have been forced to take up the essential but stressful task of fetching water after their parents have migrated.
Urmila is a physically challenged woman living in Mahuabandh village of the same block who walks with the help of crutches. Despite this physical difficulty, she has no option but to fetch her daily supply of water from a distance of almost one kilometer.
Gulab Rani Vishvakarma is a 70-year old woman of Mahuabandh village who bends over while she walks. I watched her walking barefooted in scorching heat with two small pots. Villagers told me that she walks a distance of about half a kilometer to get her daily supply of water. There are several elderly people like her in the village who live alone and fetch water with great difficulty.
Reaching a water source comprises only half the effort required for obtaining water in the drought affected district of Mahoba.
Once at the source, villagers often have to wait for an hour or more for their turn, or before the next bucket of water can be cajoled out of the well or hand pump. Whether in Mahuabandh, Bihar or Karhara Dang village, the story I heard again and again was of villagers – particularly the women – spending sleepless nights in order to ensure getting their day’s water supply, often even walking to the water source in the middle of the night.
Political motives at work
A big village like Mahuabandh has no shortage of water sources. There are plenty of wells and hand pumps. The problem is that there is no water to be obtained from about 80% of these sources now. Some water is still available in a few sources located a little distance away from the main settlements, since these were less used in the past. Hence people have to walk to get their daily water needs. Two tankers are sent by the administration once every three days. The villagers say that they need five tankers each day.
In Bihar village a water tank has dried up completely. This has led to a further decline in the water table of a tubewell located nearby and hence also in the water supply recently connected to this tubewell.
“Never before have I seen these wells and hand-pumps drying up, but there is no water now,” said Shyam Sundar of Karhara Dang village. The only saving grace in this village is that the panchayat has been able to buy its own tanker-cum-tractor, which is able to help a little in quenching the thirst of the village.
At a time when there is such extreme shortage of water for human beings, it is not surprising that most farm and dairy animals never get adequate water for quenching their thirst on a daily basis, with some no doubt even dying of thirst.
It is shocking that, at the time of writing, a water train sent by the central government to Mahoba for supplying water could not even reach Mahoba because the administration did not accept the supply, saying that it was not really needed.
Clearly, political considerations are at play here about who will get credit. The needs of the people should be the main consideration, of course. Any offer to help in resolving the water crisis should have been accepted readily and happily.
After the train was stopped, leaders of the ruling Samajwadi Party claimed that there was hardly any water in it. But the right approach in such a situation would have been to demand that a properly equipped train be sent.
One hopes that narrow political considerations will be disregarded in the future. The overwhelming priority should be to arrange adequate water as soon as possible for the health of the villagers as well as the animals.
This is the third of a series of reports on the drought in Bundelkhand’s Mahoba district. Read the second here.