Away from media attention, Gujarat is enduring one the worst droughts in recent history. The state, as a whole, received only 76% of its average rainfall during the south-west monsoon of 2018. Some regions have fared much worse.
The Wire travelled over a thousand kilometres through Kutch and North Gujarat, the two worst affected regions, and spoke to pastoralists, farmers and families struggling for fodder and water. This is the third in a series of articles about the drought. You can read the full series here.
Kutch/Banaskantha: In Kutch and in north Gujarat, it is often said that a drought every three or four years is normal. The two arid regions have devised ways to live with it.
But the situation this year is exceptional. By the admission of the state, the current drought is the worst in over thirty years.
Utensils to store water kept next to a water pipe in Bekhra, a remote village in the most sparsely populated taluka of Kutch – Lakhpat. The village hadn’t received water in its pipelines for 10 days. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
An empty dam near Khavda, 80 kilometres north of Bhuj. Of the 23 dams in Kutch, only three have water stored in them. The administration, though, is certain that they have enough to meet the needs of the district till July. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
Parts of Kutch received only 12 millimetres of rainfall during the monsoon. To put this into perspective, Punjab received more unseasonal rain in April this year.
The Banni region is comprised mostly of Maldharis, a semi-nomadic pastoral community, that depends almost entirely on cattle for its livelihood. Due to the rainfall deficit, their cattle have suffered a shortage of fodder (as there is very little natural grass available) and water. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
More than 400 cattle camps, where fodder is provided to cattle, have been set up across the district by NGOs, with the support of the government. A subsidy of Rs 35 per cattle per day up to a maximum of 40 cattle per household is provided. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
As a result of the drought, there is little natural grass available for cattle to feed on. This has impacted the economy in these regions, as most of the population is dependent on their cattle for livelihood. Several thousands have migrated to other parts of Gujarat.
The water stored in three reservoirs is provided through water pipelines. Tankers ply to settlements where there are no pipelines. But, residents complaint that the supply through both pipelines and tankers is erratic and inadequate. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
Several thousands have migrated from Kutch due to the drought. As water availability declined, those who could afford to, migrated to the eastern parts of Kutch or even as far as the Ahmedabad district. The administration, however, does not know exactly how many have migrated. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
In Nanasarada, a hamlet of around 1,500 in the Banni region north of Bhuj, only a few families remain. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
Water supply to the villages has also been impacted with residents having to wait several days before they are supplied water through pipelines or tankers where there are no pipelines.
The virdas are a traditional system of water harvesting used in Kutch for centuries. A natural depression, jheel, is identified and multiple shallow wells, virdas, are dug for rain water run off to collect. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
Women carry water to their home from virdas. In Kutch, like in most of rural India, it is primarily the job of women to fetch water. As the season progresses and water level declines in the virdas, the water turns progressively brackish. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
After a ten-day wait, Bekhra finally gets water in its pipelines. The wait was made even more excruciating when the pipeline developed a snag when water was released from the pumping station. Fortunately, it was fixed in time before supply was cut off. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
The government claims that enough is being done to deal with the situation. But life, in the hostile terrain with an unforgiving climate, remains precarious.
A parched field in north Gujarta’s Banaskhantha district. The district has received only 33% of its 30 year average rainfall. Credit: Kabir Agarwal
A mustard field in Kutch’s Nakhatrana region. Most of the crop has been destroyed due to the paucity of rainfall. Credit: Kabir Agarwal