Taps gone dry, Bihar braces for parched summer

March 10th, 2011 - 12:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Patna, March 10 (IANS) For Maheshwar Singh and Mohammed Fazal in Bihar’s Gaya district, it’s going to be a long and dry summer. They have asked their families not to waste water by bathing but store it instead for cooking and drinking.

For millions in Bihar’s central districts of Aurangabad, Nawada, Jahanabad and Arwal, summers are synonymous with dry taps, long queues in front of water tankers and rivers reduced to narrow canals. But this year, the dry patch has started in early March.

“If we are running for water and waiting hours for water tankers in early March, it is going to be a difficult time in April when summer actually begins,” said Singh, a small-time trader.

Official sources in the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED) say Bihar is facing scarcity due to depletion of groundwater after the failed monsoon last year.

According to officials, the water level has already declined in several districts and it will go down further in the coming days.

Fazal, a motor mechanic, said water has become a much sought-after item in Gaya ahead of summer, thanks to the government’s apathy to take initiatives to get over the scarcity.

“It is a common phenomena during summer when people struggle for water. But this time water scarcity has hit Gaya in the first week of March itself. It’s a bad sign for the coming days. Water is going to be a luxury,” Fazal told IANS over phone from Gaya town, about 100 km from here.

Most of the families stand for hours in queues to get water. Tankers come once in a day, sometimes once in two days. People take as much water as they can, mostly two-three buckets per person.

Sometimes the whole family stands in line for hours for water.

Many do roaring trade during the times of scarcity. A bucket of water can go for anything between Rs.15 and Rs.25, Fazal said.

While people struggle to go on with their daily routines like bathing, cooking and even drinking water, politicians are singing the same old tune.

Opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Shakil Ahmad Khan said deep tubewells were lying defunct due to official negligence.

“Millions are facing acute water scarcity as hand-pumps, wells and other water bodies have dried up ahead of summer,” Khan said.

The government, however, says it is making efforts.

Chief Minister Nitish Kumar admitted in the state assembly that the scarcity has reached the magnitude of a “disaster”.

“The drinking water crisis has attained the magnitude of a disaster. But we are ready to tackle it at any cost,” Nitish Kumar said Monday.

“The government has already put all concerned agencies on alert to provide drinking water to people,” he said.

According to the chief minister, the government has made arrangements for water to be transported through tankers and bullock carts to rural areas. He said even the bovine population will have special camps where cattle would be provided water.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at imran.k@ians.in)

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