- Four reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh have already dried up
- Armed guards have been hired to protect few remaining water bodies
- Groundwater levels have receded due to deficient rainfall
Tikamgarh: As young boys plunge into a murky dam to escape the blistering afternoon sun, guards armed with guns stand vigil at one of the few remaining water bodies in Madhya Pradesh, hit hard by crippling drought.
India is officially in the grip of its worst water crisis in years, with the government saying that about 33 crores people, or a quarter of the population, are suffering from drought after the last two monsoons failed.
“Water is more precious than gold in this area,” said Purshotam Sirohi, who was hired by the local municipality to protect the stop-dam, located in Tikamgarh district. “We are protecting the dam round the clock.”
But officials say the dam holds just one month of reserves. Four reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh have already dried up.
Almost 100,000 residents in Tikamgarh get piped water for just two hours every fourth day, while municipal authorities have ordered new bore wells to be dug to meet demand.
But it may not be enough, with officials saying the groundwater level has receded more than 100 feet owing to less than half the average annual rainfall in the past few years.
In the nearby village of Dargai Khurd, only one of 17 wells has water.
With temperatures hovering around 45 degrees Celsius, its 850 residents fear they may soon be left thirsty.
“If it dries up, we won’t have a drop of water to drink,” said Santosh Kumar.
Two weak monsoons have resulted in severe water shortages and crop losses in as many as 10 states, prompting extreme measures including curfews near water sources and water trains sent to the worst-affected regions in Latur in Maharashtra.
Weather forecasters have predicted an above-average monsoon, offering a ray of hope for millions of farmers and their families.
But many, like Gassiram Meharwal from Bangaye village in Madhya Pradesh, are not optimistic as they struggle to cultivate their crops.
“Our fields are doomed, they have almost turned into concrete,” he said.
Desperate for income, 32-year-old Meharwal, who supports eight members of his family including his children and younger brothers, left to work as a labourer in the city of Gwalior, four hours away.
“There is no guarantee that it will rain this year. Predictions are fine but no one comes to your help when the crops fail,” he said.