Droughts have been the bane of India'seconomy since ancient times. About 68 per cent of the total geographical area of the country is susceptible to drought. The name ?drought? evokes scenes of men and women with haggard faces, dying animals, wilting crops, parched fields and dried up rivers and lakes. Droughts have been an integral part of life in the South Asian region with tragic consequences for a region covering the largest number of people of the world'spoor.
The prime aim of this book is to challenge the widely prevalent but rather simplistic view that droughts result from scarcity of water and are aggravated by the large population pressure. The consequences of drought pose a serious threat to the livelihoods of the majority and droughts sound alarm bells of impending doom. Consequently there is a greater demand for augmenting water supplies.
The relative scarcity of water, which is based on unequal power relations, is reproduced at higher levels with an augmented water quantum. Higher levels of water create opportunities for those with social and political clout to siphon higher allocations.
A rapid increase in use of water in agriculture, industry and domestic water supply in the last three to four decades, coupled with frequent droughts, has set the stage for competition between various water users and sectors of economy to capture all available water resources. The sharp drop in groundwater levels and deterioration in water quality are manifestations of this competitive use of water in many parts of South Asia, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions, groundwater reserves have been over-exploited, leading to problems of secondary salinisation, killing of fertile land over time and increase in the dissolved salts beyond the acceptable limits for potability.
The reasons for such phenomena are not difficult to isolate. One of the major causes is expansion of commercial agriculture, particularly that which is based on groundwater irrigation. Rapid industrialisation and urbanisation are further increasing the demand for water.
After conducting a number of case studies, the conclusion drawn is that there is a high degree of dependence on rainfall, either directly through rain-fed agriculture or indirectly through tanks, dug wells, rivers and the recharge of groundwater; hence the high vulnerability of agriculture to weather fluctuations.
The general conclusion is that droughts are too serious a problem to be left unmanaged. There is an urgent need for a holistic and long-term national policy to manage droughts in a professional manner.
(Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd, B1/1-1Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi-110044.)