Mitigating the drought risks

Mitigating the drought risks

Nature’s fury, official apathy, policy failures and a host of factors have long been causing drought with some of the regions experiencing chronic and acute forms of drought.  Billions are spent on drought mitigation and management. Yet, the problem not only persists but recurs with a remarkable frequency. 

Many parts of Telangana State are reeling under severe conditions of drought. The State Legislature is taking up a discussion on the drought situation today. This article analyses multiple risks associated with recurring droughts. Quoting substantially from reports and studies of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), this column provides an incisive understanding of drought-related risks. It provides an exhaustive review of remedial measures that any public policy on this subject should include

Nature’s fury, official apathy, policy failures and a host of factors have long been causing drought with some of the regions experiencing chronic and acute forms of drought. Billions are spent on drought mitigation and management. Yet, the problem not only persists but recurs with a remarkable frequency.

Drought results in multiple forms of human deprivation and aggravates existing forms of deprivation. Vulnerability to drought is aggravated by a region’s risk of water shortage and the exposure of the communities to the problems arising there from. The dry land areas which normally face water shortage reel under much more stress during drought situations.

The unremunerative nature of agrarian economy increases the vulnerability to even relatively not so serious conditions of drought too. Human actions like unabated sand mining in the rivers and rivulets lead to unprecedented depletion of ground water levels, further compounding the plight of drought-hit population.

The National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) suggests that it is critical to understand this hazard and its incidence across space and over time to establish comprehensive and integrated drought early warning systems that incorporate climate, soil and water supply factors such as precipitation, temperature, soil moisture, reservoir and lake levels, ground water levels and stream flows.

People affected by drought resort to several socio-economic strategies to cope with it. These include diversification of activities, reducing and modifying consumption, reducing expenditures on non-essential goods, participating in relief works, borrowing, migrating, mortgaging and disposing of assets etc. But, these strategies are not uniformly adopted by people in different drought-prone regions. The strategy adopted depends on severity of drought, as perceived by the affected population.

Even in a given drought-prone region, different sections of society respond differently to the drought situation. For example, small farmers and landless labourers tend to migrate if they face drought situation. Large farmers may diversify their crops so as to reduce the risk. People in some drought-prone areas adopt long-term strategies to develop natural resources viz., soil, water and vegetation by following the watershed development approach, which could minimise severity of drought.

The government’s drought management strategy should include measures to support the affected population in effectively coping up with the adversities caused by drought. For instance, the government departments should support the efforts of farmers in diversification of crops through input provisioning and extension services.

The credit delivery system should be enhanced and strengthened so as to ensure that peasants’ indebtedness does not become much more crippling due to drought-induced economic distress. Growing indebtedness leads to alienation of small and marginal farmers from their lands. This would mean a long-term economic dependency for the drought-affected population. Support strategies should envisage prevention of land alienation.

The National Sample Surveys revealed that the Indian poor spend substantial part of their meager incomes on food alone. Drought causes scarcity in food market, leading to spiralling prices of food commodities. Reduced incomes and increasing prices mean conditions of starvation and semi-starvation. Such conditions are not as visible as melancholic signs of starvation but certainly debilitating. Thus, it is essential to improve the food supplies through public distribution system in the areas affected by drought.

Additional supplementing of nutrition especially to vulnerable sections of population like children, women, old aged and sick need to be augmented. Drought-related health risks should be properly assessed to ensure preventive and curative measures.
The NDMA’s National Disaster Management Guidelines on Management of Drought indicate some of the immediate risks associated with drought and suggest remedial measures.

Borrowing of money by the community in the drought-prone areas is mostly from private money lenders at higher rates of interest. Thus, provision of micro-credit facilities is an important intervention. Agriculture universities and NGOs have brought out documentation on best practices in drought-coping mechanisms and the same needs to be inventoried at district, mandal and village levels, validated and replicated. Migration during drought is mainly of the younger segment of the population leaving behind aged and children. Social security needs of such population need to be addressed as part of drought mitigation measures.

The National Commission on Agriculture in India has classified three types of drought: meteorological, agricultural and hydrological. Meteorological drought is defined as a situation when there is significant decrease from normal precipitation over an area (i.e., more than 10%). Hydrological drought results from prolonged meteorological drought resulting in depletion of surface and sub-surface water resources.

Agricultural drought is a situation when soil moisture and rainfall are inadequate to support healthy crop growth. Drought is also classified on the basis of time of onset as early season, mid season and late season.Therefore, drought mitigation measures should vary according to the type of drought risk a given region or population is facing. Sometimes, different forms of drought may coexist, causing greater pain and suffering for people. In such a situation, a combination of measures has to be taken.

For instance, in the wake of agricultural drought, drought-proofing measures have to be taken before the crop is planted, such as improving water holding capacity (WHC) of soil through organics/silt, land configurations etc. Drought management measures are those initiated during the crop growing period (in situ conservation, reduction in plant population, supplemental irrigation etc.)
In fact, there is a fundamental problem in perceiving the drought by governments and households. Drought invariably is handled as a ‘crisis situation’ and a short-term problem by the governments. At the household level, individuals perceive drought as a natural hazard, beyond human control.

The NDMA analyses the multi-dimensional impact of drought on the overall economy and the social and economic conditions of households. The direct impact of drought is generally classified under four categories: physical, social, economic and environmental. Droughts cause a loss of assets in crops, livestock and productive capital as these are immediate consequences of water shortage. The lingering impact is felt in the lack of quality seeds in the subsequent season.

Studies reveal that drought adversely affects children’s attendance in schools and even leads to dropouts supplementing family income. Acute water scarcity increases the household time spent on collecting water which undermines girl child education, more specifically. The drought-induced sale of cattle increases economic vulnerability. Drought reduces employment and wage provisioning, too.

It may result in a considerable intensification of household food insecurity, water-related health risks and loss of livelihoods in the agricultural sector.Thus, any drought management plan should encompass all these macro and micro level impacts. Both household and societal risks associated with the conditions of drought need to be addressed.

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