Indian gov’t mulls steps to alleviate drought


NEW DELHI, India, AP

Alarmed by the worsening drought situation in India’s north and west, the government called an emergency meeting Wednesday to chalk out immediate steps to prevent crop failures and food shortages.

Some farmers have postponed planting seeds. Others watch helplessly as cloudless skies and scorching temperatures wither their crops.

Scant monsoon rains have played havoc with India’s mostly rain-fed agriculture, especially in areas where irrigation networks are not fully developed. Even in irrigated areas, reservoirs have touched bottom.

“If it doesn’t rain in the next five to 10 days, the situation will be alarming,” Agriculture Minister Ajit Singh said as he opened a meeting with representatives from 11 states.

The Indian Parliament was scheduled to debate Wednesday the impact rainfall shortages would have on the farming community and steps being taken by the federal and state governments to contain the damage. Parliament adjourned, however, to commemorate the death on Tuesday of its oldest member, Atmaram Bhai Patel, who was 84.

The monsoon is crucial to India’s farm output as about 80 percent of the country’s rainfall occurs between June and September. Two-thirds of India’s 1.02 billion people depend directly on agriculture for their livelihood, and farming contributes about 25 percent to gross domestic product.

In India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, state officials declared 21 districts as drought-hit and sent drinking water to the worst affected areas.

While drought conditions led to parched fields and scorched crops in the north and west, in the eastern state of Bihar, thousands of mud and thatch houses were washed away following heavy downpours.

Monsoon rains are drenching the eastern coast and northeast, but hot winds from the west are keeping the clouds from moving to the agricultural regions of the north and west. Even southern states, however, are reporting much less rainfall this year.

The U.S. based Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies said India’s northwestern region was not likely to receive rain until Friday, and then it will be scanty. Indian meteorologists have said substantial rain may not follow until the first week of August, when the monsoons are normally expected in June.