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The BBC's Daniel Lak in Gujarat
"In the past ground water was much closer to the surface"
 real 28k

Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 17:20 GMT 18:20 UK
Eyewitness: Paying the price
Women in queue
The long wait for water in Gujarat's Rajkot district
By Daniel Lak in Gujarat

Drought in Gujarat wears a different look to the tragedy of Ethiopia - so often the scene of famine and widespread thirst in recent years.

Few of things we have been conditioned to expect from those recurring images from the Horn of Africa are to be seen in India's current drought.

We're paying the price for 50 years of encouraging the wrong sort of development

Environmentalist Basudev Vora

Severely malnourished children, millions on the move to find food, parched, dust bowl conditions - none were in evidence during my recent trip to Gujarat.

That's not to say that there wasn't a lot to be deeply alarmed about.

"We're paying the price for 50 years of encouraging the wrong sort of development, the crops," environmentalist Basudev Vora told me in the central Gujarati town of Rajkot.

Wrong crops

"This is a dry, arid place. We get 50 centimetres of rain in a good year. We shouldn't be growing cotton and peanuts here."

Mr Vora says the government is to blame for the parching of his home district, and indeed, many other parts of India.

Woman filling jars
Some critics have blamed water policy for the shortage
He says there should have been a policy to conserve and nurture water supplies, just as India made self sufficiency in food a goal in the 1960s, during the so-called green revolution.

I met an 80-year-old woman at a deep, stone-lined well outside Rajkot.

Her name was Heeroben.

"I've been doing this for 70 years," she said as someone else hauled up her bucket, "and it's never got any easier. Now the water is so far down, and we have to walk three, four kilometres to get here."

'Not unusual'

She remembered other droughts, summers of scorching, dusty heat when the monsoon rains were late.

And like so many local people in Saurashtra, she didn't see the current water shortage as an unusually calamitous event.

Women filling jar
Normal supplies can be once in six days

But it's hard to feel confident about the future in an area where some wells are now 900 metres deep.

The hardworking and hospitable District Commissioner of Rajkot, AK Rakesh, exuded confidence about his efforts to alleviate drought.

"To some extent, we live in hope," he said. "

But we hope, and we're confident, that this year's monsoon won't fail."

Twice now, the annual rains have been paltry, and late.

"We're doing what we can to help people, and we're doing a good job. Now it's up to the weather."

He could be right.

Things could improve immeasurably with a good monsoon.

Money counts

But as Basudev Vora put it, "Increasingly what we have in India is not food or water shortages, we have shortages of money.

"The rich can buy anything - the poor, they suffer most from calamity because they can't use cash to help them recover. And no one seems to care."

Fodder weighing
Animal fodder is in short supply

There are already clear indications in India of other areas running out of water.

Even in the capital, Delhi, the water table is dangerously low, drained by middle-class homeowners with personal wells.

The prediction of water wars in India sometime this century might not be far off the mark.

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