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Part 1 - The grim reality of drought-hit Maharashtra

Even as monsoon brings devastating floods to northern India, Maharashtra experiences its worst drought in 40 years. Drought has swept through the districts of Solapur, Ahmadnagar, Sangli, Pune, Satara, Beed and Nashik, as well as Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Aurangabad, Jalna, Jalgaon and Dhule. Ironically, Maharashtra state has the highest number of dams in the country. Yet, wells are dry, crops are wilting in the fields and livestock are dying. Farmer suicides are on the rise. Read the first of Neelima Vallangi's 10-part series on the Maharashtra drought, a man-made tragedy no one is writing home about.

Irrigation in progress, Naya Wathoda village, Amravati district. A farmer pumps water from the irrigation canal on the left of the image to crop fields on the right. Naya Wathoda is one of roughly 300 villages that receive irrigation from the Upper Wardha dam. Irrigation has allowed farmers to increase their yield, raising income as well as providing food. However, the government of Maharashtra recently sanctioned the diversion of 41% of the irrigation water from the Upper Wardha dam to upcoming thermal power plants instead.

As the train chugged from Pune to Solapur, we passed by Ujani Dam. I saw flocks of flamingos flying over the water. It was a precious sight, a sight I wouldn’t see for the next few days as I travelled in the drought-hit districts of Beed and Solapur in Maharashtra.


I didn’t see any water bodies. Occasionally, even if I did, it was a stagnant pool festering in different shades of green. The earth was parched and my eyes longed for greenery. For days I went from place to place each day forgetting a little bit how greenery looked like. There were cracks in the ground and only dried twigs stood on the now-deserted lands. It was hard to find people in the fields, there were none. Neither did I see any animals. I saw men huddled along the corners playing cards. With the severe lack of water for irrigation, fields have been abandoned. There isn’t much work to do and people are struggling to make ends meet. Without any means to feed their animals, cattle owners have started living in cattle camps spread across the districts as a last resort. In many places, the cattle camps haven’t been set up yet, causing people to sell their animals leaving them with no other way of earning livelihood with the crops failing too.

As we went through the villages, I saw houses were stacked with drums and containers of all shapes and sizes. Taps have been running dry for far too long and so have the wells. Most of the villages depend only on water tankers for survival. The tankers come once a week or so and it is a frenzy out there whenever they arrive. I saw everyone from old women to little children running around with buckets and containers in their hands.

The intensity of the crisis became clear as we visited several lakes and crossed over bridges built across rivers and canals that didn’t have a single drop of water. We passed by several pomegranate orchards that couldn’t withstand the drought; the level of water scarcity can only be imagined if a drought-tolerant crop has also dried up. Unfortunately, the only greenery that seemed to thrive in the drought stricken districts was sugarcane. It was surprising to see so many flourishing green sugarcane fields despite the crop being heavily water-intensive. 

Maharashtra is facing one of the worst droughts in over 40 years. With a deficit in rainfall and mismanagement of available water resources, farmers are badly hit with many reporting failed crops continuously for two years due to scarcity of water for irrigation. Ironically, Maharashtra is a state with the highest number of dams in the entire country with more than 1,800 notable large dams constituting a whopping 45% of all the dams constructed in the country.

Currently more than 11,000 villages in Maharashtra are facing severe drought. Approximately 2 million people are affected. With the situation so grim, it is imperative that drinking and agricultural needs be prioritized over industrial needs. While power generation and thriving industries are essential, it should not be at the expense of millions of farmers and their livelihoods.

Lead photo: © Vivek M/Greenpeace

NEXT: Part 2 - Life changes when water dries up     

Moved to action? Support Greenpeace India's effort to support the farmers' movement to get back the water that has been allocated to industries in the drought-hit regions of Maharashtra.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Neelima VallangiNeelima Vallangi is a writer and photographer from Bangalore. She has been travelling in India for the past few years unearthing little-known places of the country. She travelled with Greenpeace through the drought-hit regions of Maharashtra to find out the reality of the situation in the region. Follow her writing on her website and on Facebook

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