Jharkhand stares at harsh summer as water sources shrink

March 16th, 2011 - 12:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Ranchi, March 16 (IANS) “The biggest problem in Ranchi is water,” says 55-year-old V.N. Singh, as he stands sweating in a serpentine queue in front of a water tanker in the Jagganathpur area here. It might be little consolation for him, but the rest of Jharkhand too is not much better off.

More than half of the state’s villages are facing an acute water crisis and its major rivers run the risk of going dry in the next few weeks, officials say.

According to government sources, 52 percent of the state’s 32,615 villages are suffering from an acute water crisis. Of the 323,000 wells in these villages, about 140,000 have nearly dried up.

Not only that, the state’s major rivers - Koel, Shankh, Swarnarekha, Paras and Dewaki - among others, may dry up by the end of March.

The water level of the Damodar river in Dhanbad district has depleted at an alarming rate, while the Mayurakshi and Ajay rivers in Dumka district are carrying 50 percent less water than in the same period last year.

Officials say the Hatia, Rukka and Kanke dams, which supply drinking water to this state capital, too have seen water levels shrink by one to three metres.

Even the rain gods seem to be displeased with the state. The monsoon disappointed the state for the last two successive years. In the last 10 years, Jharkhand was declared drought-hit six times.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Arjun Munda said efforts were being made to deal with the problem.

“Drinking water crisis is a major problem in the state. We are making efforts to help the people of the state,” Munda told IANS.

“People should try to preserve water. The central government should help the state in getting rid of the problem by helping to complete the pending irrigation projects,” he said.

His appeal for central help is not too surprising, considering the failure of the schemes floated by successive state governments in the last nine years.

Last year, for example, the Arjun Munda government announced it will excavate 20 ponds in every panchayat of the state. The plan remains on paper as the work is yet to take off.

But government apathy apart, why is the situation so dire?

Experts says poor rainfall, coupled with over-exploitation of groundwater, is the chief culprit.

“Jharkhand has witnessed erratic rainfall in recent years. Due to scant rain in the hilly areas, the water sources dry up in summer. The groundwater is over-exploited and no planning has been done to preserve it,” said Nitish Priyadarshi, a Ranchi-based geologist and environmentalist.

“The ponds, dams and rivers have been encroached over the years, which is another cause behind the drying up of the water sources,” he added.

Such explanations, however, are cold comfort for Jharkhand’s residents, who are sweating at the thought of another parched summer.

(Nityanand Shukla can be contacted at nityanand.s@ians.in)

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