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Church agencies respond to India's crippling drought

Increasing numbers of farmers in affected areas driven to suicide

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

Published: December 26, 2016 05:14 PM GMT

Updated: December 26, 2016 04:21 AM GMT

Church agencies respond to India's crippling drought

A file photo of a farmer squatting in his barren field in Uttar Pradesh, northern India. Due to ongoing drought more than one hundred Indian farmers and farm laborers have committed suicide since January. (Photo by ucanews.com)

(UCAN Series: Best of 2016)

As India's prolonged drought worsens, church agencies are intensifying efforts to provide assistance to distressed farming communities.

"The drought situation in the country is very grim. There has been no rains," says Indian Catholic bishops' conference spokesman Father Gyanprakash Topno.

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"Rivers have all dried up and people are migrating from villages to cities," he said.

According to government data, 10 out of the 29 Indian states are affected by drought, the worst in four decades.

The drought and record high temperatures have affected more than 330 million people.

As a result of smaller yields and the resulting financial strain, more than 100 farmers and farm laborers across the country have committed suicide since January.

Federal junior agriculture minister Mohanbhai Kundariya told parliament April 26 that between January and March the western state of Maharashtra witnessed 57 farmer suicides, 56 in the northern Punjab state and three in southern India's Telengana state.

Antony Francis, from a regional social service forum of the Catholic Church, told ucanews.com that apart from farmer suicides, drought in the region has led to a range of problems.

"Open defecation has increased due to the shortage of water and this is in turn polluting the little bit of water left in the ground," Francis told ucanews.com.

The forum coordinates church's social activities in 17 dioceses in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Goa.

Francis says the Maharashtra state government has taken control of private bore wells to supply water to the public.

"The water comes once in three days because most of the ground water has been exhausted and it takes time for it to accumulate again," he says.

Maharashtra is the worst drought affected state with many parts of it going without drinking water. The government has even resorted to shipping in water by train.

Other drought–affected states include Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka.

Francis says his team has conducted a situation analysis of 85 drought-affected villages in five districts of Maharashtra.

"We are chalking out plans for immediate relief and long-term intervention for drought mitigation," he says, adding that they are trying to mobilize funding to bring further relief to those affected.

Besides Maharashtra, millions of farmers in the Bundelkhand region that falls in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh states are reeling under the affects of drought.

Volunteers from Caritas, already working in the region, will increase human and economic resources to provide further assistance to those in need, says Father Frederick D'Souza.

"Apart from addressing food security and alternative livelihoods for farmers, we are also focusing on counseling to prevent suicides," said Father D'Souza who is Caritas India's executive director.

"There are certain things which are beyond our control but we should at least try to do things which are within our control," Father D'Souza says.

Caritas has been supporting tree planting campaigns, rain harvesting, organic farming and the cultivation of crops that use less water, says Father D'Souza.

It is hoped that the southwest monsoon will deliver much-needed rain to affected areas in June.

Published April 29, 2016

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