Some 330 million people in 256 districts are affected by severe drought in India, the government told the Supreme Court last month. This number was likely to rise further given that some states with water shortages had not yet submitted status reports. The drought was accompanied by a heat wave with temperatures crossing 40 degree Celsius across much of the country for days now.
A drought is a period of drier-than-normal conditions that results in water-related problems. It can mean different things to different people, depending on how a water deficiency affects them. In urban areas, the taps at home run dry, while in rural parts the depth to water in wells increases, the flow of streams and rivers declines, and water levels in lakes and reservoirs fall.
All of this happens when rainfall is less than normal for several weeks, months, or years, leading to dry weather. If the situation persists, the dry period can become a drought. A prolonged dry period may substantially lower the yield of crops due to a shortage of soil moisture in the plant root zone, as also adversely affect groundwater storage.
India is heavily dependent on monsoon rains, which have been poor for two years in a row in many parts. Water availability in the country's 91 reservoirs is at its lowest in a decade, with stocks at a paltry 29% of their total storage capacity, according to the Central Water Commission. Some 85% of the country's drinking water comes from aquifers, but their levels are falling, according to WaterAid.
Droughts cause innumerable hardships to humans and all living beings. Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi recently urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to immediately declare this drought as a "national emergency" in view of the human sufferings. As reported by The Times of India, Sathyarthi voiced concern that the government is not giving ample time to the issue, and said that at least one dedicated session of parliament should be on drought.
Long before India, California faced a similar situation, and before it, Australia. California's had five years of severe drought, and 2015 and 2014 were the warmest years on record. The State’s Governor Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in 2014. Still, media reports indicate the situation is far from better in 2016.
The years of suffering have taught Californians that while it’s easy to blame Mother Nature for the rising temperatures, it’s important that we consider our own complicity. Most scientists now agree that the main contributor to climate change is human expansion of the greenhouse effect. Basically, humans are putting too many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which in turn trap heat and prevent it from escaping.
It’s really time to face the hard truth – most of us live unsustainably. We waste lots of water, leave our electric gadgets on, throw away food and plastic waste, and drive alone instead of carpool. Whether we are rural farmers or urban professionals, we’re going to have to rethink if we want to avoid situations like the one in our country, or in far off California or Australia.
If we don’t step up, who will? It’s on us to take care of one another and our planet.