What is a drought
When the dry weather continues for a long time and there is no rain in a country, we call that state a drought. A drought is thus just opposite of the flood when there is excessive water which overflows a vast tract of land.
A strange thing in India
India is a vast country with different climatic conditions in different parts of the country. It is very hot in one part and it is very cold in another part at the same time. The rainfall is very heavy and causes flood in one part. There is no rainfall at all in another part. It causes a drought there. In some part the climate is temperate. It is neither very hot nor very cold. In 1987, there was abundant rainfall in one part. At another part there was not a drop of rain. Is that not a strange thing ?
How drought is caused
A drought is mainly caused when the weather is dry in one part of the country and it continues for a long time. There is not a drop of rain anywhere in that part of the country. If there is no rain, well developed irrigation system can be a partial substitute of rain water for agricultural purposes. But the irrigation system in India is not well developed. It cannot supply water where it is needed. So this undeveloped irrigation system also helps a drought. Tubewells in very large numbers may help people to some extent if there is no rain. But tube wells are quite insufficient. So want of tube wells also helps a drought to continue. If the monsoon blows properly all over the country there cannot be any drought. So the main cause of the drought is the failure of the monsoon.
The unprecedented drought of 1987
Drought often occurs in our country in one part or another, but not always in a terrible form. The drought of 1987 was a terrible one. It affected many States of India. It was regarded by people as an unprecedented drought of this century. It affected Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa. Gujarat and Rajasthan were worst affected. It is really an irony of fate that while there was a terrible flood in Eastern India, a terrible drought occurred in most other States of India at the same time. It was the common belief that this drought was the worst one of the century. But Dr. R. P. Sarkar, Director-General of Meteorology, New Delhi, said that there were three other more severe droughts in India in 1918, 1972 and 1979. This drought of 1987 ranked fourth in severity.
Scene in the drought-affected States
The drought-affected area in the countryside presented a dismal scene of desolation. The heat of the sun was unbearable. There was not a drop of rain. The ponds, tanks, reservoirs, wells and canals were dried up. The crops in the field were scorched due to the extreme heat of the sun. There was no grass in the field. The earth was parched and cracked. Trees had no leaves. Cattle did not graze in the fields. Farmers could not plough the land. Everywhere there was a deserted look.
Sufferings of the people and cattle
Sufferings of the people caused by the drought were unbearable. People had no water to drink. It can be well imagined how they craved for a glass of water to satisfy their thirst. This was the condition of the cattle also. In newspapers there were pictures of cattle lying dead on the field. Some farmers were compelled to let loose their cattle to take care of themselves as there was no fodder and drinking water. It was really a heart-rending sight.
Relief measures in the drought-affected States
The then Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi opened a drought relief fund. There was a great response. People contributed liberally to this fund. Even Governments of some foreign countries contributed large sums of money to help the drought-stricken people. The Central Government helped the State Governments with money to render relief work. Food from the buffer stock was sent to the affected States as far as possible. Besides giving this help, the Prime Minister asked his ministers to visit the drought-affected States and see that relief work was being conducted properly on a war-footing.
The affected State Governments began the relief work in right earnest. The most important problem was the supply of drinking water for human consumption as well” as for cattle and for agricultural work. Due to the drought tanks, ponds, reservoirs, canals were almost dried up. This caused shortage of drinking water. The hydroelectric stations did not get sufficient water to generate electricity for pumping water from irrigation canals and deep tube wells to help agricultural work. The Irrigation Department and the Electricity Department worked together to meet the necessity.
As the ponds etc. were drying up, the only method of providing water for human and cattle consumption was by installing hand pumps, deepening of existing wells and filling of ponds with water from the irrigation and other canals through pipes from the generation stations. Where possible drinking water was carried in tankers. Trucks, bullock carts and other means of transport carried drums of water to the affected areas. Water was so scarce in some affected areas that a bucket of water was sold at very high price if tankers etc. could not carry water there.
Officers were directed to supervise the work of supplying water for drinking as well as for agricultural work. Water was very necessary for late kharif crops and rabi crops. Fair price shops were opened to supply essential commodities. Strict watch was kept so that hoarders could not hoard these essential commodities and black marketers could not sell things at an exorbitantly high price.
Loans were granted to farmers on easy terms to do their agricultural works. Previous loans were remitted in many cases. In many cases loans were allowed to be repaid by installments. The Central Government has decided to sink millions of tubewells all over the countryside so that in future men and cattle may not suffer for want of drinking water, and agricultural work can be carried on if there is want of rain. It will be a good thing if this decision can be worked out properly.