Drought is human-made, says New Delhi-based think tank Centre for Science and Environment

It is not about the lack of water or monsoons, but about a lack of planning, policies and foresight

In Chhattisgarh, 93 per cent of districts drought-affected. The state has made 1,18,000 water conservation structures under MGNREGA in the last four years. Why haven’t they helped?

CSE organises media presentation in Raipur titled ‘Drought, but why?’

Launches special edition of Down To Earth magazine on the subject of drought

Raipur, May 13, 2016: India's drought-prone area has increased by 57 per cent since 1997. One-third of India’s districts have faced more than four droughts over the past decade, and 50 million people are affected by drought every year. Since independence, the country has spent a humungous Rs 3.5 lakh crore on drought-related issues. 

These and many other statistics formed the core of a media presentation on drought organised here today by the New Delhi-based public research and advocacy think tank, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). A special ‘drought’ edition of Down To Earth, the science and environment fortnightly that CSE helps publish, was released on the occasion by the magazine’s managing editor, Richard Mahapatra. The magazine is in its 25th year of publication, and its drought special is billed as a comprehensive in-depth coverage coming from across the country, with statistics, opinion pieces and expert analyses.

Mahapatra said: “The current drought is turning out to be the worst in the country's recorded history. More people are affected by drought now than before, irrespective of the level of monsoon deficit… India has more than 150 years of experience in managing droughts; despite this, every time the country faces a deficit monsoon, we plunge into a crisis.”

In Chhattisgarh, 93 per cent of the districts have been declared drought affected. It has rainfall ranging between 1,300-1,600 mm. In 2015, it had 12 per cent ‘deficit’ monsoon which according to the India Meteorological Department, does not qualify to be termed as ‘deficit’! 

So, Mahapatra argues: “But it is not deficit monsoon – rather, the lack of policies and mechanisms to drought-proof susceptible areas that turn the situation into a crisis.”

Writing in the magazine, CSE director general Sunita Narain says the same thing: “Drought in the 1990s was essentially the drought of a poor India. This 2016 drought is of richer and more water-guzzling India. This classless drought makes for a crisis that is more severe and calls for solutions that are more complex. The severity and intensity of drought is not about lack of rainfall; it is about the lack of planning and foresight, and criminal neglect. Drought is human-made.”

In his presentation, Mahapatra connected drought to food security: “Drought and food security are critically linked. Drought-prone districts account for 42 per cent of the country’s cultivable land. For maintaining food security, even at the current nutritional levels, an additional 100 million tonnes (MT) of foodgrains need to be produced by 2020. According to estimates, 40 per cent of this additional supply has to come from these districts.”

He adds: “So, it is not about whether our drought relief operations are effective. Rather, India can’t afford to have droughts any more. A long-term strategy to make India drought-free is the biggest message of the 2016 crisis.”

CSE advocates a three-pronged action plan to combat this enduring crisis: augment water resources, revise and update the drought code, and secure water for all times. This means building more water harvesting structures based on water planning and not just employment (as under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee programme); shutting off all non-essential water use, from watering lawns to hosing down cars; and benchmarking water use and setting targets for reduced consumption year on year.

Chhattisgarh has created 1,18,000 water conservation structures in the last four years under the MGNREGA. Given the severity of water scarcity, it raises a pertinent question: why did all these structures fail to conserve water and drought-proof the state? asks Mahapatra.


  • For clarifications and details, please contact Souparno Banerjee (souparno@cseindia.org, 9910864339).

  • To access the Down To Earth drought package and other related information