Southern districts headed for worst water crisis

MADURAI JAN. 25. The persisting drought scenario in the southern districts is paving the way for one of the worst ever drinking water crises in the recent years, if the rainfall statistics and ground water availability are any indication.

Successive failure of monsoons has not only dried up crops and reservoirs, but also depleted the water table to unprecedented levels.

Drinking water scarcity is already showing up in parts of Madurai, Virudhunagar and Sivaganga districts, forcing officials to contemplate contingency plans to counter the summer needs.

Almost all wells, tanks, lakes and reservoirs in these districts are nearly dry.

The south-west monsoon rains during October could not recharge the ground water table though the drinking water problem prevailing then was mitigated to some extent. For the fourth consecutive year, the rainfall has been deficient in these districts.

If the no-rain situation continues to deplete storage in the Vaigai dam, the urban dwellers are likely to experience a cut in water supply from mid-March.

Little fodder for cattle

With hardly any fruitful cultivation having taken place in the last six months, the cattle have been left with little fodder. Officials in the Agriculture Department said a World Bank team, which inspected some rural pockets in Madurai on Friday, suggested to the farmers they cultivate green fodder wherever well irrigation was possible, to protect the cattle and sustain milk production.

Amidst fears that the `food-for-work' programme under the Sampoorna Grama Swarozgar Yojana, which had been engaging thousands of landless agricultural labourers, might not last long, a sharp hike in the unemployment graph appears imminent.

The dry conditions would also bring the construction activities to a grinding halt, affecting scores of daily-wage workers, official sources said.

The Government decision to declare 28 districts in the State as drought-hit following the visit of the Central team has raised hopes among the ryots that their individual losses would be compensated under the Natural Calamity Fund. As the rural economy is suffering a setback, a chunk of the menfolk is migrating to neighbouring cities and States in search of employment.

Crime rate up

The crime rate is steadily going up in these districts and the police are confirming the involvement of "fresh" offenders. In Madurai city, as many as 701 major thefts were reported in 2002, involving a property loss of Rs. 81.46 lakhs. This is in addition to 250 plus murders, dacoity, robbery, burglary cases, pick-pocketing and chain snatching cases. "There was a perceptible increase in the crime rate in some districts recently which had to be curbed with aggressive policing," the Inspector-General of Police (South Zone), T. Rajendran, said. Even as a near-drought situation prevailed last year, heavy rains during the first week of February enabled a robust paddy yield.

Though it is too late to save any crop this year, rains, if any, would at least prevent an acute water crisis in summer.