India’s ghost villages: Food and water scarcity forcing many to leave

Prolonged droughts and crop failures are causing some Indian villages to empty. For the women and elderly left behind, it’s a struggle. As temperatures continue to rise, there’s little hope their loved ones will return.

Deutsche Welle

Meera Sadagar has not seen her husband for three months. Ten years ago, he packed his belongings and moved over 200 kilometers (124 miles) away to work in a factory, and now rarely comes home.

If the 35-year-old mother of five is perturbed by this fact, she doesn’t show it. Absent husbands are, after all, a recurring theme in Hatkarwadi, a small village nestled into the rocky hillside in Maharashtra state, India.

“In every household it’s the same,” Meera explained, balancing a child on one hip and an empty water container on the other. “Old men and women, and their daughters-in-law – they’re the only people who live here. Everyone else leaves to find work outside.”

Official figures are hard to come by, but older villagers estimate a few decades ago Hatkarwadi had a population of over 1,200 people. That number has dwindled to around 250. Recent successive droughts and an ongoing water crisis in the region have caused crop failures and widespread poverty, forcing people to migrate.

“In the old days, there was good rain; it would sometimes rain two or three times in a day,” recalled 80-year-old Ganpat Bandgar, who has lived alone in the village since his wife died. “Now it doesn’t rain at all.”

In summer, the village all but empties. Nearly everyone bolts their homes to head for the cities, sometimes hundreds of kilometers away, in search of seasonal work in construction or sugarcane factories.

Bandgar often feels lonely and is saddened that the village is emptying but would never consider moving away himself. “I’ve lived here for 80 years; everything I know is here,” he said.

His two sons both work in a factory in a city several hundred kilometers away.

When the water stops flowing

In villages across Maharashtra the story is the same. Drought and crop failure hit 72 percent of districts in the state this year. According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD), Beed district, in which Hatkarwadi village is situated, has seen a pattern of declining rainfall over the last decade.

Currently most of the migration away from the region is seasonal, with migrants finding work elsewhere for six to nine months of the year and returning in the monsoon for planting season.

In the most severely drought-hit areas though, villages are gradually emptying even in the monsoon. In Hatkarwadi, around 80% of the villagers have found permanent work elsewhere, only returning for brief holidays to visit family members left behind.

All of the 20 or so wells in the village are empty, and the only source of drinking water is a borewell drilled over 400 feet (122 meters) underground. The electricity needed to pump the water is more than the village is supplied with each day, so the women have a matter of minutes to collect enough before the supply is cut and the water stops flowing.

Read more: India’s ‘water man’ keeping liquids flowing despite crisis

To make matters worse, water tankers cannot traverse the narrow windy roads leading up to the village, so when the water does run out villagers are left without a backup.

“The problem has become very serious. Even ten years ago there was little rainfall, but in the last two or three years there’s been hardly any,” said Melvin Pangya, the Maharashtra State Officer for Caritas, an NGO working to mitigate drought-related migration through local water storage solutions.

“In some villages you will find only old people, because whole families have migrated… If there is no rain and no water, then what can they do? They can migrate, they can search for work somewhere else. Those are the options.”


Water scarcity in Pakistan – A bigger threat than terrorism

A UNDP report says that Pakistani authorities are negligent about an impending water crisis that is posing a serious threat to the country’s stability. Experts say the South Asian country is likely to dry up by 2025.

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The major threat that Pakistan faces today is not Islamist terrorism but water scarcity. While the former makes headlines all over the world, the latter is an issue that is hardly discussed in the national and international media or by policymakers. But a recent UNDP draft report on the water crisis in Pakistan sheds light on a serious, albeit much-neglected, conflict the South Asian country is grappling with.

While discussing the UNDP report “Development Advocate Pakistan,” Shamsul Mulk, former chairman of the Water and Power Development Authority, said that water policy is simply non-existent in Pakistan. Policymakers act like “absentee landlords” of water, he added.

“Because of this absentee landlordism, water has become the property of the landlords and the poor are deprived of their share,” Mulk said.

Pakistan hasn’t built new dams since the 1960s, say experts

The draft report on water resources was prepared at the request of the ministry of water and power. Mulk said, however, the cabinet ministers never reviewed it.

Last year, the Pakistan Council of Research in Water Resources (PCRWR) warned that the country may run dry by 2025 if the authorities didn’t take immediate action. It said the majority-Muslim country touched the “water stress line” in 1990 and crossed the “water scarcity line” in 2005.

If this situation persists, Pakistan is likely to face an acute water shortage or a drought-like situation in the near future, predicted the PCRWR, which is affiliated with the South Asian country’s Ministry of Science and Technology.

Expert Irfan Choudhry says the authorities lack the political will to tackle the problem.

“There are no proper water storage facilities in the country. Pakistan hasn’t built new dams since the 1960s. What we see is political bickering over the issue. The authorities need to act now. We can store water for only 30 days, and it is worrisome,” Choudhry told DW.

Climate change and poor management

Pakistan has the world’s fourth highest rate of water use. Its water intensity rate – the amount of water, in cubic meters, used per unit of GDP – is the world’s highest. This suggests that no country’s economy is more water-intensive than Pakistan’s.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Pakistan is already the third most water-stressed country in the world. Its per capita annual water availability is 1,017 cubic meters – perilously close to the scarcity threshold of 1,000 cubic meters. Back in 2009, Pakistan’s water availability was about 1,500 cubic meters.


Tackling the growing threat of water conflict

Climate change and rapid population growth are among the reasons for rising water insecurity. Charles Iceland of the World Resources Institute spoke to DW about how it’s driving conflict in Africa and across the globe.

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Ever more of the world’s population is living with water insecurity and is unable to consistently access safe, clean drinking water.

A number of factors, including climate change and poor water management, are worsening water scarcity, which coupled with other social problems like rising inequality and ethnic tensions, are threatening conflict between states and within states.

Charles Iceland, director of global and national water initiatives at the World Resources Institute, spoke to DW about disputes over the essential resource and how it can be avoided, as well as the new Water, Peace and Security (WPS) tool that forecasts where water disputes are likely over the next 12 months, and how they might be avoided.

Charles Iceland from the World Resources Institute says water scarcity alone rarely causes violence, but is a ‘threat multiplier’

DW: What is a water conflict and what does it look like?

Charles Iceland: In many places throughout the world, there’s just more and more demand for water with respect to what’s available. Sometimes the conflicts are nonviolent — like in Australia or California where people go through the legal system or they work their issues out without violence. But in a lot of places, the problem is grave enough and the ability to resolve the problem is not well developed. So you can see the wrestling over these scarce resources develop in violent ways.

Where would you say are the regions and countries in which water, water scarcity, water quality are playing a role in conflict?

Populations are growing very quickly in sub-Saharan Africa — going up fourfold between 1960 and today. Resources have either stayed the same or you have a reduction in resources, because of climate change or because desertification is reducing arable land. So you have a lot of violent conflicts between these smallholder farmers and pastoralists wrestling over scarce land and water resources. We’ve seen over the past couple of years pastoralists massacring farming communities and retribution by farming communities.

We’re also seeing a lot of violent conflict play out in the Middle East. So, for example, in Iraq, a lot of the demonstrations that led to the prime minister’s resignation a few months ago. But part of the grievances entailed lack of services, which included lack of access to clean water and lack of access to electricity. They’re getting sick. About a year and a half ago, 120,000 people in Basra had to be hospitalized because they were drinking contaminated water.

And it’s [water scarcity] is also a problem in places like Iran, Afghanistan and India. So those are some of the hotspots.

When you have violent conflict, it usually plays out at a subnational level. While you have international conflicts over water, those are rarely resolved through violence. So, for example, we have India and Pakistan wrestling over water in the Indus. We have Iraq and Turkey wrestling over water in the Tigris and Euphrates. We have Egypt and Ethiopia wrestling over water and in the Blue Nile Basin. The parties try as much as they can to resolve the issues in a nonviolent way through diplomacy.

Poor infrastructure and water management, decreasing rainfall and growing populations are among the factors that can lead to conflicts over water

Both, like a lot of metaphors, are not really accurate. Wars are rarely fought over water as a single issue. Rather, we see the problem as a threat multiplier. So it’s one issue in the background. If you have other issues leading to instability, maybe problems between ethnic groups or anything could trigger violence, the background of having water scarcity, has destabilized the society and made it less able to resolve problems amicably.

How much of a role does climate change play in water scarcity or water quality?

We have trouble attributing any particular drought or flood to climate change, but we are seeing very dramatic increases in the incidence and severity of drought in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. So we’re having a general decline in rainfall in some of these areas. In some of these areas the amount of rainfall stays the same but you have very large intermittent drought and flood periods. That’s what’s been predicted by climate change experts.


What happened to Africa’s ambitious green belt project?

The 15 kilometer (9.3 mile) wide Great Green Wall project stretches over 7,775 km from Senegal on the Atlantic to Eritrea on the Red Sea. The aim was to curb the Sahara Desert’s spread. But major challenges remain

The “Green Wall” is to cross eleven african countries

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Climate expert  and Energy Watch Group president, Hans-Josef Fell, said: “Many people should get work through such a project, the trees bring fruit and wood.” 

In the shadow of the forest, the soil could potentially be used for agriculture. “Creating work and income is one of the most important measures to combat mass migration in the region,” said Fell.

Back to traditional methods

A total of 20 countries pledged support to the Sahel countries for the mammoth project. The European Commission has already invested more than €7 million ( $7.5 million).

But according to the United Nations, the initiative has only reached 15% of its targets after just over a decade. “Progress is slow, but we have learned a lot along the way,” said climate consultant Vivekananda.

One of the lessons learned so far is that a continuous wall is not such a good idea, because trees would otherwise be planted in areas inaccessible to the people who could take care of them. Instead, local initiatives have been formed to preserve existing trees, using traditional methods of securing a water supply.

Threats of corruption and terrorism 

“The project is successful in some areas, less so in others,” said climate expert Fell. Ethiopia in particular has made great progress since 2007, reportedly restoring around 15 million hectares of desolate soil, according to the UN.

In conflict-ridden countries like Burkina Faso there is a lack of money for the Green Wall

“The main reason is that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has put afforestation at the top of his agenda,” Fell told DW.

Successes in the fight against desertification can also be reported in Nigeria where five million hectares of land has been restored and 20,000 green jobs created. In Senegal, too, more than 11 million trees have been planted, making 25,000 hectares of land fertile again.

This progress cannot be said for many countries in Central Africa, according to Fell. “Terrorism is very strong here and paralyzes human efforts and aid organizations. Corruption also plays a role with money rather going into politicians’ pockets than into project development.”

Nevertheless, in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, around 120 municipalities have jointly created a green belt on more than 2,500 hectares of deserted land and planted more than two million seeds and seedlings of 50 native tree species.

Far behind schedule

But lack of funding is a particularly big problem for conflict-torn countries such as Burkina Faso. The cross-border Great Green Wall Initiative is currently not investing in the country due to its high insecurity.

Tree nursery in Senegal

Janani Vivekananda thinks this is a mistake: “The project would be a good way to create peace. But if investments are only made in stable states, then it will harm the weakest who, without investments, are exposed to further conflicts and climate change. Ultimately, this increases the inequality between stable and fragile states.”

It is now up to Africa’s governments to recognize the initiative as an important motor, Fell argues. “But it is going too slowly, Africa is far behind schedule, the necessary needs have to be launched much faster. This requires concentrated action in development cooperation and by local governments.”

A rich mosaic of different initiatives 

Nevertheless, the German climate expert believes that Africa’s green dream can become a reality. However, it would require certain foundations: “Education and training for the population, as well as money for the first measures such as irrigation. In addition, fighting corruption and terrorism. Because that massively destroys the activities of the population,” said Fell.

Vivekananda believes that if Africa’s governments concentrate on these steps, a living wonder of the world could indeed blossom in 10 years’ time: “If enough work is put into the green wall, we may soon have no continuous wall, but we will have one rich mosaic of different initiatives that contribute to people’s livelihood and food safety. If women and young people are included, the Great Green Wall will be a success by 2030,” she said.

An Integrated Desertification Vulnerability Index for Khorasan-Razavi, Iran

Mohammad Hadi PashaeiAlireza RashkiAdel Sepehr – Published 2017 – DOI:10.13189/nrc.2017.050302

In recent decades’ desertification as objectively the degradation of the ecosystems in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas of the wide range of Iran with area more than 85 percent arid and semi-arid area is derived. The purpose of this study is to present an integrated index for vulnerability assessment of desertification based on imagery data at Khorasan Razavi province. At the first was prepared a land cover map of the province for two periods; 2000 and 2013, which was classified in 6 class involving agricultural, pasture, shrub lands, residential areas, desert, and forest. We applied remotely-sensor indices regarding the enhanced vegetation index (EVI), precipitation, soil salinity (SI), evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and land surface temperature (LST), to create an integrated desertification index (IDI). The degree of desertification vulnerability was considered along 14 years from 2000-2014. The results showed that more than 60 percent area of the province is very high and high vulnerable to desertification. Approximately 22% are resistant ecosystems and about 18% classified in medium vulnerable class. Results indicated that vegetation cover changes are a most effective index for desertification process. Evapotranspiration index shows maximum fluctuations during studied periods. The kappa coefficient was measured about 0.75 which confirm the validity of results.

Changes To Drylands With Future Climate Change

Eurasia Review
   Eurasia Review

A research team led by Washington State University has found that while drylands around the world will expand at an accelerated rate because of future climate change, their average productivity will likely be reduced.

The study, published in Nature Communications, is the first to quantify the impact of accelerated dryland expansion under future climate change on their gross primary production. Drylands, which primarily include savannas, grasslands and shrublands, are important for supporting grazing and non-irrigated croplands around the world. They are also an important player in the global carbon cycle and make up 41% of Earth’s land surface and support 38% of its population.

“Our results highlight the vulnerability of drylands to more frequent and severe climate extremes,” said Jingyu Yao, a research assistant in WSU’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and lead author on the paper.

Using satellite data of vegetation productivity, measurements of carbon cycling from 13 sites and datasets from global models of future climate change, the researchers found that productivity of drylands will increase overall by about 12% by 2100 compared to a baseline from about 10 years ago. However, as drylands replace more productive ecosystems, overall global productivity may not increase. Furthermore, due to expected changes in precipitation and temperatures, the amount of productivity in any one dryland area will decrease.

In addition, the researchers found that expansion among different types of drylands will lead to large changes in regional and subtype contributions to global dryland productivity.

Drylands will experience substantial expansion and degradation in the future due to climate change, wildfire and human activities, including changes to their ecosystem structures as well as to their productivity, said Heping Liu, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and corresponding author on the paper.

Because these regions are already water stressed, they are particularly sensitive to temperature or precipitation changes. Warming temperatures from climate change and more frequent and severe droughts threaten their biodiversity as well as their ability to take in and hold carbon.

Especially in developing countries, the degradation of dryland ecosystems could have strong societal and economic impacts, said Yao.

These changes have already started happening in the last few decades. In the U.S. Southwest, the introduction of invasive species has changed dryland regions from green to brown. Precipitation changes in Australia, which is composed almost entirely of drylands, have meant a dryer continent with dramatic impacts and Mongolia’s grasslands have deteriorated because of warmer temperatures, less rainfall and overgrazing.

While the drylands’ productivity is important for supporting people, these areas also play a critically important role in annual carbon cycling. They help the planet breathe, absorbing carbon dioxide every spring as plants grow and then breathing it out in the fall as they become dormant. Because the growth of dryland ecosystems is very sensitive to changes in rainfall and temperature, drylands show the most impact of any ecosystem in year-to-year changes in the carbon cycle.

Understanding their role in future carbon cycling can help researchers determine how to best preserve areas of high carbon uptake.

“In our society, we are not paying much attention to what’s going on with dryland regions,” Liu said. “Given their importance in global carbon cycling and ecosystem services, a global action plan involving stringent management and sustainable utilization of drylands is urgently needed to protect the fragile ecosystems and prevent further desertification for climate change mitigation.”