Ganesh Jadhav, 14, can hardly balance two 12-litre plastic cans on his bicycle. But he has to make at least four such trips to get water from a borewell, which is 3km away from his house in Taka village in Latur.
Ganesh is not the only one. Almost every lower- and middle class household in Latur, Beed and Osmanabad of drought-hit Maharashtra witnesses a similar situation every day.
“I make at least four trips from early morning till noon with my two siblings. Forget playing, our studies too were affected because of this work during the final exams last month,” he says.
Bapurao Jadhav, a resident of the village, said fetching water is a responsibility given to children in most of the houses. Around 30km away, in Latur city, Shraddha Kuchekar, a Class 4 student, has to stand in a queue for hours to get four buckets of water.
Around 200 buckets are lined up at a public tap at Tirupati Nagar in Latur from the wee hours.
“We have to be in the queue at 3am to get four buckets at 10am. Shraddha makes sure we get the water daily,” says her mother Maya.
Not very far from Shraddha’s house, Yogita Desai, 12, a resident of Sabalkhed village in Beed, died of heat stroke while fetching water from the borewell last month.
Four weeks on, the family is yet to get any compensation.
“The case does not fit any norms set for compensation. We may request the state government for compensation from the chief minister’s contingency fund,” said Chandrakant Suryavanshi, the resident deputy collector of Beed.
In villages where water is supplied through tankers, boys have to be ready with rubber pipes to fill their plastic drums on the road.
“The quantity of the water you get is determined by how quickly you insert the rubber pipe in the tanker. Families that have youngsters who can climb atop a tanker get more water,” said Vanita Shelke, 40, a resident of Masurdi village in Ausa taluka of Latur.
According to experts and psychiatrists, hardships in drought-affected areas are likely to have an adverse effect on children’s growth.
“The impact is manifold. On the one hand, their emotional and physical health is affected owing to the odd jobs, while on the other their family goes through tremendous stress. This leaves an impression on the child’s mind. They are forced to compromise with their basic needs such as spending leisure time with friends and relaxation,” said Dr Vinay Barhale, a psychiatrist from Aurangabad, who conducts counselling sessions for farmers from suicide-prone villages of Osmanabad.