Waste Not, Water Naught



A farmer walks through a cascade of browned banana leaves, only a few spots of green visible, and declares that his crop for the season has been lost.   

A group of women in brightly colored saris rush to surround a water tanker, carrying numerous brightly colored water jugs which they hurriedly fill up, carry back to their homes, and then rush back to refill.  

A young boy plays on the ground near his mother who fills tubs of water for cattle that stand under rows of yellow tarps. 

Such are the scenes in Maharashtra, a state in western India, which has been facing an ongoing drought since last year that has the potential to affect millions in India's second largest state.

India is no stranger to water shortages—the country has experienced three major droughts in the last 10 years alone. But unlike in previous years, the Maharashtra drought appears to be man-made, or at least made more severe by poor policies and at times, corrupt practices. In particular, much of the water pumped through the state’s thousands of government-run dams gets diverted from local irrigation to big industries and foreign companies.

India-Drought-3And with such a high demand for water, corruption is common. Prayas, an Indian disaster relief charity, estimates that as much as 64 percent of the water slated for local farmers was siphoned off, some to companies with close political ties to the government. Practices such as this have slashed the region’s per capita water availability by 70 percent since 1950, even as the population continues to rise by some 18 million a year. And with climate change producing more extreme and less predictable weather, small farmers are increasingly dependent on a dwindling and erratic supply of water. Warmer temperatures tend to aggravate evaporation at water sources, and negatively impact soil fertility while increasing erosion.

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