Andhra's poor hang precariously between heat and hunger

  • Mohammed Shafeeq (Indo-Asian News Service), PTI, Hyderabad
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  • Updated: Jun 09, 2003 16:19 IST

Those better off sit safe under fans and behind draped windows blocking out the scorching sun, but Lingaiah can't afford to dodge the fury of summer for that might mean courting starvation.

"If I don't go out to work even for one day, we will starve," sighs Lingaiah, a construction worker in Andhra Pradesh's Nalgonda town, as he sweats over bricks and concrete.

Earning Rs.50 a day, Lingaiah is the sole breadwinner for his family of five. So while many dare not venture outdoors while the sun shines, this impoverished construction worker has no option but to toil in the open.

With about 200 deaths, economically backward Nalgonda district in the Telangana region is the worst hit in the heat wave that has gripped Andhra Pradesh.

The oppressive heat wave battering the state for the last three weeks has already claimed at least 1,020 lives. And there are no rain-bearing clouds on the horizon to bring Andhra Pradesh deliverance from the heartless heat.

Srinivas rides a cycle-rickshaw through Vijayawada city to make a living. "I can't afford to stay at home even for one day, even if it means courting death. If I don't earn a few rupees a day, my wife and children will starve," he rues.

Vijayawada, which the British colonialists had nicknamed "blaze wada" for the heat, is reeling under temperatures around 49 degrees Celsius.

As the mercury soars and heat wave toll climbs, state relief commissioner D.C. Rosaiah admits that the government's precautionary measures were proving woefully inadequate in the face of nature's wrath.

With temperatures ranging between 46 and 49 degrees Celsius in most places, three years of successive drought, severe drinking water scarcity due to drying up of reservoirs and fast depletion of groundwater, life has become hell for most of Andhra Pradesh's 76 million people.

"It is a pitiable and horrible situation. In spite of all precautionary measures, the situation seems to be going out of control as the monsoon is also likely to be delayed," Rosaiah told IANS.

The unrelenting heat has made life miserable for farmers and agricultural labourers already reeling under the most severe drought in three decades. Many agricultural labourers have migrated to towns or neighbouring states in search of work. Women, children, the aged and the infirm left behind are wilting in the heat.

Vast stretches of parched and cracked land, dried tanks and deserted streets greet one in villages across the state.

The heat wave has paralysed normal life for almost a month in towns and cities. Businessmen, traders and government employees stay indoors to escape nature's fury, but rickshaw-pullers, taxi, truck and auto-rickshaw drivers, construction labourers and other daily wage earners have no option but to step out.

The heat wave has claimed 152 lives in East Godavari district, 138 in Guntur and 130 in West Godavari. Prakasam has reported 98 deaths, Krishna 66, Chittoor 42, Karimnagar 41, Nellore 31, Visakhapatnam 27, Warangal 25 and Khammam and Adilabad 20 each.

The current heat wave is the longest in the state's history and the death toll is likely to surpass last year's casualty figure of 1,037. Over the past few years, heat waves have been claiming more lives than floods and cyclones.

Admitting that the government can do very little in a situation like this, relief commissioner Rosaiah says district administrations have been directed to provide drinking water, warn people against venturing outdoors at midday and supply re-hydration packets.

Drinking water scarcity is acute in many places, including the state capital. Water is being supplied once in two or three days in most towns and cities.

The government claims water is being supplied through tankers to 1,364 villages and habitations. But there are many villages like Dayalamarri, a tribal hamlet in Nalgonda, where there is neither water nor electricity.

With no source in their hamlet, which lies just 65 km from Hyderabad, about 500 women and children walk two kilometres everyday to fetch water from an irrigation borewell. The majority of the men have migrated to far-off towns.

"Our life has become miserable. We have no work. There is not even a single bore-well here," moans 28-year-old Jyothi, adding that the authorities cut power to the hamlet as no one could afford to pay the tariff.

Ramulamma, a resident of Jagdevpur in Medak district, says many are falling ill as their diet is not nutritious enough to fortify their bodies against the heat.

"There is no work, no proper food or water in our village. Even our cattle are dying everyday as there is no fodder available," she says.

Destitute, beggars and homeless have perhaps been hit the hardest. Everyday police remove dozens of bodies of those dying of sunstroke on the pavements of Hyderabad and other cities and towns. Many of these deaths are not even counted as fatalities from sunstroke.

Few are yet claiming the Rs 10,000 compensation announced by the government for the families of each victim of the heat wave.

"This assistance is meagre. The government should pay a minimum of Rs 100,000 to each family," says BV Raghavulu, secretary of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).


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