300 Million in India Face Crippling Drought, Record Heat
About 300 million people in 10 Indian states are suffering under a crippling drought and record heat wave that “have decimated crops, killed livestock, and left at least 330 million Indians without enough water for their daily needs,” AP reports.
Last year, 2,500 people died in scorching temperatures. Now, the news agency states, “huge numbers of farmers” have “migrated to nearby cities and towns in search of manual labour, often leaving elderly and young relatives behind in parched villages.” Late last month, a group of more than 150 economists, human rights activists, and academics sent an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to express their “collective anxiety about the enormous suffering of the rural poor.”
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Last month, heat-related illness killed at least 300 people, including 110 in the state of Orissa, 137 in Telangana, and another 45 in Andhra Pradesh, where temperatures around 44°C/111°F were 4° to 5°C warmer than normal for April, AP notes. “Rivers, lakes, and dams have dried up in parts of the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, and groundwater reservoirs are at just 22% capacity.
“In some areas, the situation is so bad the government has sent tankers of water for emergency relief,” the news agency adds. “Monsoon rains are expected to start only in June.”
In the eastern state of Bihar late last month, the government forbade cooking between 9 AM and 6 PM, “after accidental fires exacerbated by dry, hot, and windy weather swept through shantytowns and thatched-roof houses in villages and killed 79 people.”
The western state of Maharashtra is in the fourth year of a crippling drought, with poor farming practices making a bad situation worse and driving down agricultural output. “This year is the worst in decades, officials say, because most farmers are also burdened by years of accumulated debt as they continue to deplete the precious groundwater,” the Washington Post reports.
With reservoirs and rivers in drought districts nearly dry, the region now depends on water deliveries by train. “In many places, children have turned into porters for their families, running up and down with water pots all day,” writes correspondent Rama Lakshmi. “A 12-year-old girl collapsed and died last month here in the searing 111°F heat after she made five trips to fetch water.”
The Post adds that “nearly 30% of Indians in cities and 70% in villages rely on water pumped from deep underground, because the tap water supply is either insufficient or nonexistent.”
Late last month, Mashable reported that heat waves across India and Southeast Asia were shattering all-time records. “A key contributor to the heat waves is a waning El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean, which can lead to dry and hot conditions” in the region, the site noted. “Scientific studies show that global warming is also enhancing the likelihood of heat waves, as well as making them more severe.”