Natural calamities are great levellers. This adage, however, is only partly true: Catastrophic events affect everyone, but some ---- the poor ----- are affected more than others. And, among the poor, it is the ‘most vulnerable’ ---- women, children, the elderly and the disabled ---- who take the maximum hit when catastrophes singe societies.
This is exactly what is happening in India’s 10 drought-hit states: The most vulnerable are getting battered from all sides. Take for example, women. They suffer “disproportionately” from the impacts of disasters because of cultural norms and the inequitable distribution of roles and resources. In many rural areas, women are now being forced to walk over 2.5 km to reach water sources.
According to a report by environmentalist Vandana Shiva, on an average, a rural woman traverses 14,000 km a year to fetch water. In Beed, which accounts for the highest number of farmer suicides in drought-hit Marathwada, widows are bearing the greatest burden of the suicides. On Wednesday, a report in MINT said that many of them don’t even get compensation (Rs 1 lakh) on time and, in several cases, in-laws corner the money, forcing them to take up low-paying jobs in the unorganised sector.
Read | The widows of Beed
Then there are the children. The Centre has stated that over 336 million people are affected by drought and of these 164 million are children. In such situations, several challenges confront children: Trafficking, forced and bonded labour, child mortality, ill-effects on their health, child marriage and discontinuation of education, especially when they migrate with their parents to cities.
According to a report released on Tuesday by Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, more than half of the total child marriages and labour in India today are from the 10 drought-affected states and this will further aggravate if things don’t improve. Mr Satyarthi has requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to declare drought as a national emergency as the lives of children have been badly affected across the country. Recently, an 11-year-old girl, Yogita Desai, died of heatstroke and dehydration while collecting water from a village pump in Maharashtra. Desai had spent close to four hours in 42 degree Celsius temperature.
When migrations happen from the rural areas to the cities, the old and the infirm are left behind. In normal times, their lives can be challenging but in times like these their difficulties only multiply. With very little help from the State, many of these old and disabled are finding it difficult to get two meals a day.
Their neighbours are unable to help because they themselves are stretched. In some villages of Bundelkhand, NGOs have started soup kitchens to provide the old and disabled food but those are more the exception than the norm. The State must realise that providing water tankers and trains is just not enough; in these trying times, help has to reach the most-vulnerable as quickly as possible.