The 2015-16 drought in Marathwada was caused not by climate change but poor management of water resources, a study conducted by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology-Pune and the Indian Institute of Science-Bengaluru has revealed.
The two institutions analysed 145 years of monsoon rainfall data to arrive at the conclusion.
While admitting that the region is prone to droughts, the study states that the magnitude of the last drought could have been reduced with proper management of crop cultivation and water usage. It cited rainfall data extending from 1871 to 2015 to assert that there have been changes in the strategies used for cultivating crops and managing water resources over the last four decades.
The study categorically stated that the flow of irrigation water, exploitation of ground water, and allocation of water for cultivating water-intensive crops such as sugarcane and pulses have to be examined properly. It also said the administration must identify and promote sustainable strategies that adapt to varying rainfall patterns in the region.
The analysis showed that Marathwada is visited by a drought nearly once in six to seven years on an average. While it witnessed 22 such instances between 1871 and 2015, back-to-back droughts occurred five times — in 1876-77, 1920-21, 1971-72, 1984-85 and 2014-15. Interestingly, the region did not witness a single drought between 1940 and 1970, and there were no droughts between 1999 and 2011 despite rainfall slumping below normal levels.
“Neither the rainfall deficit of the 2015 Marathwada monsoon nor the occurrence of two successive years of drought can be considered exceptional behaviour on the part of the weather gods,” the research states. “The current strategies of agriculture and water management, which led to an unacceptably adverse impact on farmers, are obviously inappropriate. Better strategies have to be identified and implemented.”
The average June-September rainfall for the Marathwada region is 687mm, but the deviation from that figure can be as high as 27%.
The rainfall deficit in Marathwada in 2015 was 40%, far lower than the deficit of 54% during the 1972 drought. However, while no report of farmer suicides or water scarcity emerged then, over 1,000 farmers ended their lives last year. Agriculture was severely hit — the production of pulses fell by 52%, tur dal by 42%, moong dal by 71%, and urad dal by 74%.
The paper further clarifies that there has been no significant change in the average seasonal rainfall or drought pattern.