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Rajasthan on drought alert

Rajasthan was among the country's hottest states on Wednesday as a savage heatwave swirled through the deserts here, prompting the region to brace for its fifth-straight year of drought.

india Updated: Jun 05, 2003 11:07 IST

Rajasthan was among the country's hottest states on Wednesday as a savage heatwave swirled through the deserts here, prompting the region to brace for its fifth-straight year of drought.

The sprawling state, nestling in the Thar desert, also posted India's highest temperatures on Wednesday as the mercury zoomed to 48 degrees Celsius (118.4 degree Fahrenheit) in one of its arid districts, officials said in burning Jodhpur.

The mercury was jammed at 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 Fahrenheit) for the second day Wednesday in Jaisalmer district, as other parts of the state of 50.6 million people blistered without relief.

The scorcher has killed nearly 1,200 people nationwide since May-end and weather experts have warned the annual monsoon, now officially delayed by at least a week, could trigger serious problems.

Rajasthan state, meanwhile, said it had already started a mammoth anti-drought programme to help almost one million people who have lost their crops to the killer scorcher and opened camps to feed milch cattle.

State Relief Minister Gulab Sakatawat painted a grim picture of shrinking water supplies and said Rajasthan's cattle stock, the backbone of the region's economy, was also feeling the pinch from the shortages.

"Due to the below average rainfall, Rajasthan's underground (water) level has shrunk by 67 percent in the past four years and as a result as many as 200 towns and cities are receiving water twice a week after every 96 hours," he said.

"All 32 districts have been declared drought-hit," the relief minister added, amid reports that as many as 20 districts were reporting empty wheat bins.

State public works minister C.P. Joshi, said efforts were underway to restore supplies to residents and cattle sweltering in one of India's worst heatwaves in years.

"Instructions have already been given to normalise the situation and now water is being transported to 6,315 villages," Joshi said, adding that tankers and a special water train had been deployed to supply 52 parched towns.

Officials said the state had also set up a total of 2,865 temporary cattle camps and that fodder was being supplied at subsidised rates to feed nearly 900,000 cattle to avoid a catastrophe.

According to federal monitoring agencies, 90 of Rajasthan's 237 sub-districts have overused their underground resources, quartering the supply to dams, which forced half of Rajasthan's farms to remain barren last year.

The state last year received 84 millimetres (3.4 inches) of rain compared to its annual monsoon average of 177 millimetres (seven inches), and the situation had worsened in the current year due to the delay in the onset of monsoon.

Water has vanished from 7,964 villages and 460,000 hectares (1.13 million acres) of crops have already perished.

Rajasthan in 2002 sought 60 billion rupees (1.26 billion dollars) from the national government to feed 2.1 million families below the poverty line but the funds given were inadequate to meet the awesome demand, officials said.

A majority of the nearly 1,200 heatwave casualties has occurred in Andhra Pradesh. Rajasthan so far officially has not reported any heat-related deaths.

First Published: Jun 05, 2003 11:07 IST