Sunday, July 14, 2024

Comprehensive drought mitigation strategy needed

Dr.M. Suresh Babu, Praja Science Vedika

Dr. Yogendra Yadav,  Swaraj Abhiyan

Dr. Pankaj Pushkar, Bharath Jodo Abhiyan

Prof G.Venkata Siva Reddy – Convener Backward Region Development

The situation in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, reflects a critical issue in many parts of India where drought is a recurring phenomenon. Drought has multifaceted impacts, and its persistence can lead to severe consequences for the affected regions.  Over 68% of India is affected by drought, impacting numerous administrative districts across states. Drought has become a persistent issue, affecting regions like Anantapur in Andhra Pradesh consistently over many years.  Drought conditions often lead to crop failure, causing significant economic stress, especially in the agriculture sector.  Prolonged drought can contribute to the depletion of groundwater levels, exacerbating water scarcity issues.

Farmers and communities may face financial burdens and indebtedness due to crop losses and the inability to repay loans. Drought can trigger migration as people seek better living conditions and economic opportunities elsewhere. The psychological and financial strain of drought can unfortunately contribute to increased rates of suicides, particularly among farmers.  The relief measures implemented to address the immediate impacts of drought, such as providing food, water, and financial assistance. Coping strategies adopted by the affected population may include diversification of livelihoods, water conservation practices, and community-based initiatives.

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Inefficacy of Short-term Measures

The inadequacy of short-term measures in effectively mitigating the impacts of drought, highlights the need for a more comprehensive and sustainable approach. There is a necessity of a comprehensive development strategy to address the root causes of drought and its impacts.  This strategy may include long-term measures such as sustainable water management, agricultural diversification, and infrastructure development to build resilience in the face of drought. The present situation underscores the need for a holistic and enduring approach to tackle the challenges posed by drought in regions like Anantapur. This involves not only immediate relief measures but also sustained efforts towards comprehensive development strategies that address the underlying issues contributing to the recurrence and severity of drought in the region.

Drought is categorized into meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socioeconomic types. This classification recognizes that drought is a complex phenomenon with interconnected factors.

Impact on Rural Poverty and Food Insecurity

The cumulative impact of meteorological, hydrological, agricultural, and socio-economic drought contributes to rural poverty and food insecurity. This highlights the far-reaching consequences of drought beyond immediate agricultural concerns.

Natural and Social Components

Drought is acknowledged as having both natural and social components. The natural aspect includes meteorological and hydrological factors, while the social aspect involves agricultural practices, socioeconomic conditions, and societal vulnerability.

The risk associated with drought is influenced by both the exposure of a region to the adversity and the vulnerability of society. Exposure is related to the probability of drought occurrence at different severity levels, while vulnerability is determined by social factors like population, demographics, technology, policies, and social behaviour.

Exposure to drought varies spatially, indicating that different regions face different levels of risk. Vulnerability, on the other hand, is dynamic and can change over time due to shifts in social factors. This implies that societal characteristics can influence the impact of drought on a region.

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Vulnerability is highlighted as a dynamic aspect that changes over time in response to shifts in population, demographics, technology, policies, and social behaviour. This implies that efforts to mitigate drought impact should consider the evolving nature of vulnerability.

Even if subsequent droughts in the same region are identical in terms of intensity, duration, and spatial characteristics, their effects can differ due to changes in societal characteristics. This underscores the importance of considering the evolving social context when addressing the impacts of drought.

Mitigating Societal Vulnerability

Much can be done to lessen societal vulnerability to drought, especially in the context of Anantapur. This implies that targeted measures, such as improved technology, policies, and social behaviours, can contribute to building resilience and reducing the negative impact of drought on communities. The complexity of drought, the interplay between natural and social factors, and the dynamic nature of vulnerability. It underscores the need for comprehensive strategies that consider the evolving societal context to effectively mitigate the impacts of drought.

Assess the impact of the drought situation in Anantapur district, focusing on the broader context of rural livelihoods.  Key issues to be addressed include the depletion of groundwater resources, low crop production, and increasing migration in search of alternative livelihood activities.  Anantapur district experiences a continuous drought situation, making it challenging to have distinct pre and post-drought periods for analysis. Before assessing the impact of drought, the study recognizes the importance of understanding the geographical features of Anantapur district and the specific causes of drought in that area. The study primarily relies on primary data, indicating that researchers gather information directly from the field.  Secondary data from various sources, including government reports, local newspapers/media, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) involved in drought-proofing activities, is also utilized. The fieldwork is divided into two main stages. During the first phase, visits are made to numerous drought-affected villages in Anantapur district to gain an overview of the situation.

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The fieldwork involves the collection of documentary sources and interviews with key stakeholders in the visited villages. The fieldwork aims to develop a broad understanding of the resources, the affected population, and their coping strategies. Interviews with key stakeholders help gather insights into the responses of the state (government) to the drought situation.

The first phase of fieldwork helps researchers identify key issues for further investigation in the study.

The study is designed to comprehensively assess the impact of continuous drought on rural livelihoods in Anantapur district. It utilizes a combination of primary and secondary data, with the initial fieldwork phase focusing on gaining an overview and identifying key issues for more in-depth investigation. The study recognizes the importance of understanding both the geographical features of the region and the specific causes of drought to provide a holistic analysis. Chronic drought, characterized by a deficiency in rainfall, leads to the extraction and successive depletion of natural resources. This has adverse effects on agricultural production, livestock, and human living conditions, resulting in a loss of output and decreased farm incomes.  Prolonged periods of drought may lead to the desertification of land in the future, affecting both agricultural production and the livestock population.

Traditional occupations like agriculture, cattle, and sheep rearing are still prevalent in Anantapur district, though in decline. Farmers adapt their irrigation and cropping practices in response to changing rainfall patterns, but these changes are often short-term and focused on immediate survival rather than long-term preparation. While traditional crops face challenges due to water deficit, commercial crops and hi-tech agriculture are seen as promising sources of growth. However, hi-tech agriculture is limited to small enclaves, and its impact on the income and employment of the masses is doubtful. Changes in cropping patterns, including a shift towards commercial crops, have implications for food security. The diversion of land from coarse cereals, staple food grains in drought-prone areas, is highlighted as a concern.

Vulnerability to Market Fluctuations

Commercial crops, while increasing farmers’ incomes, make them more vulnerable to market fluctuations. This uncertainty affects farmers’ ability to meet both food security needs and achieve certainty in returns from commercial crops. In response to severe drought conditions, farmers adopt coping strategies, such as alternative cropping methods. Nallamada mandal, where a significant area was dedicated to alternative cropping systems during the drought season, with higher yield rates compared to groundnut. The average groundwater level in Anantapur district has been decreasing, with a drop of 7.02 meters in 2019 and 11.08 meters in 2023. Continued drought conditions are expected to lead to a further decrease, reaching 12 meters in the coming months. Over-exploitation of sand (for sale) and excessive digging of bore wells are identified as the main causes of groundwater depletion.

The depletion of groundwater resources has resulted in imbalances in crop production and availability of drinking water. In Settur mandal, about 90% of the area relies on rain-fed crops, and the rest depends on bore wells and wells. Due to persistent drought conditions, almost all bore wells and wells in the region have dried up. The state government  and the Central government should allocate funds under the Rural Infrastructural Development Fund (RIDF) scheme. The scheme prioritizes Mandals with limited groundwater facilities and focuses on activities such as de-silting/repair of small tanks, feeder channels, and waterways. The passage suggests that the effectiveness of the scheme was limited, with genuine drought-affected farmers not receiving significant benefits.

Farmers facing drought-related losses often resort to borrowing to overcome financial challenges.

The increasing indebtedness of farmers due to loans taken during drought periods, Some farmers express hope for a government order to waive bank interest as a form of drought relief, recognizing the difficulty in converting other assets into cash during drought conditions.

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Dr. M. Suresh Babu
Dr. M. Suresh Babu
Dr. M. Suresh Babu has been a Professor, Dean and Principal in various engineering colleges and institutions in Hyderabad and Anantapur. His approach to teaching is “For the student, by the student and to the student.” He is associated with several Civil Society Organizations like Praja Science Vedika and Election Watch.


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