Trouble for Karnataka as state battles virus with drought looming ahead

Nine districts in Karnataka are currently facing a water-shortage problem

KarnatakaImage Courtesy: TOI

Karnataka has been dealing with a two-pronged devil – first, the coronavirus outbreak and second, a harsh summer drought, reported the Deccan Herald. India doesn’t just face a water shortage problem, but it also faces a problem of water contamination.

Nine districts in Karnataka – Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, Kolar, Chikballapur, Tumakuru, Ramanagara, Chitradurga, Davangere and Haveri are facing a drinking water problem.

“The summer has started and I don’t know what to do because 70% of the borewells here have dried up,” the legislator of Devanahalli, a drought-prone region, Nisarga Narayanaswamy told DH.

Telling the publication that the government needs to focus on the water problem apart from Covid-19, he said, “I have asked the local engineer to drill new borewells, but he says all the drillers have gone (due to lockdown). Using water tankers is ruled out; there’s hardly any water for the tankers to take.”

Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Principal Secretary LK Atheeq said, “This year is better than last year because of good rains, and surface water is still there to feed urban areas. But in rural areas, the problem is rearing its head because the borewells are failing.”

Informing that in October 2019, the government had declared 49 taluks across 18 districts as drought-hit, Atheeq said, “In these 49 taluks, the chief executive officers of zilla panchayats have been asked to prepare contingency action plans and take up drilling of borewells, if necessary, for which Rs. 1 crore per taluk is allocated. For the remaining 127 taluks where drought has not been declared, there’s an allocation of Rs. 25 lakh.”

It takes about Rs. 9 lakh to drill a successful borewell. On an average, the government spent about Rs. 5 lakh per day to supply water through tankers.

“Also, the State Disaster Response Fund (SDRF) money can be used for tanker water supply and borewells only in places where drought has been declared. In all other places, the revenue department will need Rs. 50 crore. The Finance Department has been asked to release this too,” Atheeq added.

It has been reported that in a meeting, the state asked the Finance department to release Rs. 87 crore for the contingency plan to tackle water shortage problems.

Currently, the government has roped in 65 tankers to supply water to 59 villages and 237 private borewells for 215 villages. Last year, over 2,000 tankers and over 1,800 private borewells were hired to supply water to 2,999 villages.

The Karnataka government also received Rs. 11.48 crore from the Centre for the drought of 2018-19.

Centre allocation

The Central government allocated Rs. 5,751.27 crore to eight states who were affected by floods, landslides, cyclone and drought last year. Subject to the adjustment of 50 percent of balances available in the SDRF account as on April 1 of the financial year, Maharashtra has been allocated Rs 1,758.18 crore, Rajasthan Rs 1,119.98 crore and West Bengal Rs 1,090.68 crore while Bihar has been allocated Rs 953.17 crore of which Rs 400 crore already released ‘on account basis’. Kerala will get Rs 460.77 crore, Odisha will get Rs. 179.64 crore and Nagaland will get Rs. 177.37 crore.

Water contamination, water management and Coronavirus

According to the 76th Round report on drinking water by the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), 70 percent of the country’s surface water is contaminated and nearly 820 million people face high water stress, with India ranking 13 out of 17 countries ranked for the same. In 2019, during summer 44 percent of the country was affected by drought.

Speaking to Mongabay India, Ranjan Panda the Convener of Water Initiative Odisha said, “The 20-second hand wash, advised to kill the virus will take on an average 2 liters of water per wash. If we are required to wash hands frequently, which is very much essential, this would mean about 15-20 litres of water per person per day. For a family of five this is about 100 litres of water per day just for washing hands. Do we have that kind of water? Especially with the summer months approaching?”

In Odisha, he says, the government has asked people not to use common water sources like reservoirs and ponds for bathing and cleaning. However, the marginalized depend on these for their daily hygiene and this advisory is making it difficult for them to do so.

Siddharth Agarwal, an independent researcher on Indian rivers, who took stock of the situation, walking through different villages in India observed that many rivers were bone dry. The water consumption of people in villages was measured too, plus caste-related issues added to the problems making advisories of the government difficult to follow amid Covid-19.  

Marathwada, which is a drough-prone region in Western Maharashtra, witnesses a drought ever 2 – 3 years. Atul Deulgaokar, a veteran environment journalist based in Marathwada’s district of Latur said, “We get piped water supply, once in eight days. We have the facility to store water, but many don’t. They have to walk for miles to get water from the baolis, in Beed, Usmanabad for example.”

He adds that the need for water for per person is 50-60 liters per day and this situation gets more complicated during the summer months, especially with prices of water soaring up to Rs. 5 or Rs. 10 per liter making it difficult for the marginalized to afford it.

Experts also add that the lockdown isn’t an affordable problem for the poor. Only the rich and the middle class can tide by it. In order for everyone to practice hygiene, it is necessary that the government ensure equitable distribution of water.

Samrat Basak, director of Urban Water, World Resources Institute-India thinks that an additional 20 to 40 liters of water over and above that distributed for normal use will be required for the hand washing practice alone.

“For a city like Bengaluru, with a population of approximately 10 million, this would mean an additional requirement of 200-400 million litres of water per day,” he says.

Basak explains that there are two groups who stand to be affected by water shortage. First is the marginalized who don’t get access to water in their homes and have to rely on communal sources of water thus increasing risk of local transmission. The second group is those who live in gated communities who have to rely on tankers which won’t be a reliable sources especially with the risk of transmission and a looming drought.

The only solution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he says, is that the government increase the number of public hand washing facilities with soap and water stations across the country, especially in areas of informal settlements.



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