After the flood that claimed over 400 lives four years ago in Chennai, news now emerging from the city are about severe drought and water scarcity. Although light consolation rains offered a some relief, city dwellers are still in a desperate run for primary needs including drinking water.
This climatic phenomenon - of a flood-affected area subsequently being parched - has happened in several parts of the world. It has to be feared that a similar fate is awaiting Kerala too. As a sequel to the great flood last August, there are now clear signs of the state moving to serious dry spells. Studies conducted by bodies like the Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (CWRDM) also ratify such apprehensions. The CWRDM report attributes the drought to shoftfall in rain and a situation in which water does not seep into the soil post-flood. When the season of south-west monsoon has crossed a month, an estimated 42 per cent of shortfall in rain has been recorded. There was a deficit of 15 per cent in north-easter, monsoon also. And even the rain water received, was not proportionately conserved in the soil. Because of the water level dipping due to sand in river-bed being swept away after the flood and because of sedimentation, the flow of water was affected. As a result, reports say, water table went lower by a metre to three metres. In addition to this, human interventions in nature to an extent that would destroy the water springs, also led to water scarcity. In any case, things are moving in a dangerous direction. Unless monsoon showers show mercy, we will have to encounter severe drought, as feared by metereological experts.
The 'Chennai-model' indicated above has happened recently in several parts of India. 18 states that experienced the ravages of flood together with Kerala last year, are now facing extreme heat and drought. In June, 34 per cent shortfall of rain was recorded across the country. Over 60 people died by now in heat waves that hit north Indian states. In capital New Delhi, re-opening of schools has been postponed since temperature is close to 50 deg Celsius. It is a different face of this unmistakable climate change that we find in Kerala in the form of shortfall in rain as well as the geological changes. But this is not a new or totally unexpected natural phenomenon. It has been in the making gradually over the recent past. Big changes have occurred in our climate since 2002. From June when the 'idavappathi' (south-west monsoon) rain starts until October-November when the rain ends, Kerala used to get torrential rain. If we look at the figures of south-west monsoon of the last two centuries, there was not much variation from this behaviour. But come 2002, the nature of monsoon changed as a whole. We know what happened instead of having good rain in June and July. During August and September when the showers should subside, they strengthened so much as to cause flood. In effect, although there is no big variation in the total rain for a year, the distribution across time stood totally disturbed. The ultimate result of all this is a major collapse in agriculture sector. Even then the drinking water of Malayalis was not much affected by this 'climate change'. But the changes in water resurces and the water table post-flood do give clear signs of nothing else than scarcity of water.
Primarily, it is for the governments themselves to foresee this potential disaster and formulate preventive measures. Policies adopted by respective governments for the conservation of water resources are of prime importance. Kerala has immense sources of water including 44 rivers, 3000 mm rainfall every year and 45,000 water ponds. But not only are these not protected well, an anti-nature approach is also adopted towards them. If governments can put an end to man's exploitation of nature, that it self would be a rewarding interevention. Another area for governments to act would be of efficient dam management. At the same time water rresources that remain untapped should also be utilized. Malayalis relatively lag behind in water literacy. Statistics show that Keralites are still not prepared to try the 'simple technology' like rain-pits for preserving rain water. Adding to it is the excessive and wasteful use of water. Keralites are said to use three times the daily average quantity of water required. Behind this habit may be the complacence that however wastefully they use water, showers will provide sufficient water during the monsoon. But it is imperative to recognize now that this blessed climatic pattern dating back centuries, now stands totally, and palpably, upset. Absent this realization and remedial action, we may be in for times of severe drought.