South India heading for worst-ever drought as rains take a long break 

March 5, 2017, 1:07 pm
South India heading for worst-ever drought as rains take a long break 
South India heading for worst-ever drought as rains take a long break 

South India heading for worst-ever drought as rains take a long break 

The entire South India is staring at perhaps the worst-ever drought as water levels in major reservoirs have depleted to an alarming level. The situation is worst in Tamil Nadu where water levels in dams are 80 percent less than normal.

According to the Central Water Commission (CWC) statistics, Tamil Nadu is followed by Andhra Pradesh, with deficient storage of 48 percent. Karnataka and Kerala reservoirs have 37 percent and 31 percent less. However, Telangana has comfortable water reserves, with 71 percent above normal. Normal storage is the mean for a period from 10 to 20 years.

The cumulative water storage in 27 reservoirs spread across these drought-hit states has depleted by nearly 100 thousand million cubic feet (tmcft) within 20 days.

The alarming rate of decreasing water raises concerns over drinking and irrigation needs in the coming months.

In reservoirs that depend on Cauvery river basin, the lifeline of farmers in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, has only 14 percent of their full reservoir level (FRL) marking a drastic drop in a decade by 65.43 percent. It is followed by reservoirs along the Krishna river basin in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

As the water commission warned that rivers flowing in the southern peninsula have scarce water, the central government has sent advisories to state governments to take urgent steps for optimal use of water.

“We have written to the principal secretaries of water resources departments of state governments, asking them to take measures for water conservation
Senior SWC official

On 10 January, former Chief Minister O Panneerselvam had already declared Tamil Nadi as drought-hit based on an assessment undertaken by the state. All 32 districts had been labelled drought-affected after receiving deficit rainfall. Further, Tamil Nadu had alleged that Karnataka's non-release of Cauvery water had worsened the situation.

“We are not taking any chances. We are getting ready to meet any emergency situation and all necessary precaution has been taken. water shortage in all districts have been reviewed and contingency plan prepared accordingly,” Kerala state water resources minister Mathew T Thomas said.

All the states have witnessed crop failure and farmer suicides with the highest number in Tamil Nadu.

The retreating northeast monsoon in 2016 was the worst-ever over the last 140 years, according to Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) records, since 1876. Although the southwest monsoon, which was classified as normal across India (three per cent below average), it was 19 percent deficient in Tamil Nadu.

Karnataka declared a drought in 22 districts and some additional talukas in October 2016; the state has received Rs 1,782 crore from the central government. All of Kerala has been declared drought-hit.

Karnataka had suffered its worst dry spell in close to half a century in 2015. In fact, the state has not received adequate rainfall for the past six years. The rains stopped in August in the state. Estimates and surveys carried out by agriculture and revenue departments, 136 of the 175 taluks in the state are drought-hit and experiencing severe drinking water crisis. This is the third consecutive year of drought in the state.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah recently said the state had suffered a crop loss of Rs 25,000 crore.

Meanwhile, Kerala is staring at the worst drought in 115 years. The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) has called upon the government to brace itself for the impending crisis. The state might soon impose a water rationing system across households and industries as recommended by the KSDMA. Irrigation has already been stopped across three districts in the state.

The worst affected districts are Thrissur and Palakkad, both normally drought-prone, where dryness and crop-wilting are common. But this time, the farmers here were in for a shock. The latest figures as of 21 December 2016 from the directorate of agriculture show that 17,128 hectares of cultivable land across the state have been affected by the drought. Crop loss stands at more than Rs 90 crore.

“Efforts are being taken to recharge groundwater in these blocks under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. We are also advising optimal use of water,” a senior official with the Union water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation department said.

Water shortage has led to fierce inter-state disputes also. Tamil Nadu’s continuing battles with Karnataka and Kerala over water sharing, from the Cauvery and Mullaperiyar respectively, usually intensify during drought situations when these states curtail their sharing of river water with Tamil Nadu.