India: Double Lashing as Drought Hits North, Floods Ravage East

Publisher Name: 
Agence France Presse

NEW DELHI -- Large swathes of northern India are being crippled by a
savage drought while the east of the country is being tormented by monsoon
rains that have left some six million people homeless.

The state of Bihar is enduring both simultaneously, with monsoon floods in
the impoverished north and brittle-dry conditions in the mineral-rich south.

While the flood-drought phenomenon is an annual one in the sub-continent,
the floods this year are the worst in four years and the drought, according
to Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh, the worst yet.

The government has announced that around one-eighth of the country is
gripped by either severe drought or massive flooding, as famine and disease
stalk the flooded northeast and crops wither under a blazing sun in the
northwest.

The heavy rains since July 1 have claimed at least 60 lives and left about
6.2 million people homeless in the two most affected states, Bihar and
neighbouring Assam.

At the same time, 13 of India's 29 states have been declared
drought-stricken, allowing the introduction of emergency measures including
monetary compensation to farmers.

With the two crises on the government's hands, Junior Home Minister I.D.
Swami told parliament last week that a "high-powered" committee had been
set up under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani
to oversee relief measures.

"This committee will monitor all the relief measures for both drought and
flood-affected areas," Swami said.

In flood-hit states, the army has been sent in to assist rescue operations,
while aid organisations rush to ensure adequate food for those left
homeless and cramped into relief camps.

Water-borne disease such as dysentery and gastroenteritis are spreading in
the camps, which offer little clean drinking water and medicine.

Food scarcity has been reported in eastern Assam where several stretches of
highway have been flooded and road links severed for three weeks.

Government officials maintain the drought will not cause a famine, with
enough grain to feed everyone.

Nonetheless, farmers in the northwest are asking for compensation for
destroyed crops and dead stock animals.

The desert state of Rajasthan, for example, has called for emergency funds
totalling a staggering 60 billion rupees (1.26 billion dollars) to feed its
drought-hit millions.

The drought has left India's 70 water reservoirs at just 47 percent of
normal capacity.

Observers differ over what has caused the northern monsoon to fail. India's
meteorological experts say it is due to the fact the monsoon trough has
remained trapped in the Himalayan foothills.

However, R.K. Pachauri, chief of the UN-sponsored Inter-governmental Panel
on Climate Change, believes larger variations are responsible.

"What we are witnessing is a particular and sudden variation in climate as
predicted by experts studying global warming," he was quoted in the Indian
media as saying.

Other reports said the unrelenting heat is starting to melt Himalayan
glaciers, leading to the inundation of parts of the drought-stricken
northern state of Punjab.

Desperate peasant farmers have turned to ceremony and ritual to encourage
the rain, including donkey weddings, animal sacrifices and women dancing
naked to appease the rain gods.

In the east, they pray for the opposite.

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