Why relief-centric approach to drought mitigation is going to fail

The national disaster management authority has listed the disaster prone areas in India, according to which 68% of the cultivable area is vulnerable to droughts. This is quite interesting to see that majority of cultivable area are in drought-prone area. Drought is indeed the most critical risk which affects the majority of India’s land mass and food security. It is estimated that 33 crore of Indian population affect by drought.



The Irrigation commission set up by the government of India in 1972 had defined drought prone areas are those areas that subjects to meteorological drought in twenty percent in a year. And, if it is more than 40 percent which is considered as chronic drought affected areas.  Again the national commission on agriculture in 1976 came out with another definition of agricultural drought.

According to which an area receives less half of the normal rainfall in a four consecutive weeks during Kharif or six consecutive weeks for Rabi is considered as drought prone. These assessments are largely depended on rainfall data and assessment; however in 1994 the committee headed by Hanumtha Rao redefined the established approach toward drought, the committee proposed to consider climatic variables, irrigated areas and sources of irrigation as tools for drought assessment.

The Rao Committee offered larger institutional mechanisms to define and approach drought. It combined both natural and human-induced reasons to define drought.

Drought was recognised as a problem in India long ago the table 1 gives a detailed account of the history of drought in the country.


drought table 1India has nearly two centuries of drought management history, however the poor drought management in the last couple of years proved that government and people, both failed to develop institutions to manage the severity of drought. Now government quite often refers the national Disaster Management (DM) Act 2005 as a frame- work to manage the drought risk, DM Act-2005 is guideline and it has also ratified the state responsibility to manage the relief centric approach to drought. It is quite evident in the case of drought management in Latur, Maharashtra. The government considers only the vulnerability due to the shortage of water and water train has become a structural solution. The Maharashtra government is operating in war-foot approach to deliver water by rail. It is needed, however such temporary relief unfortunately projects as a solution. It does not offer an institutional approach to comprehensively manage drought risk.



The table 2 gives detailed account of the drought crisis in India and its increasing intensity.

drought table 2The rising people’s vulnerability to drought indeed questions the drought risk management of the governments. For instance drought refuges in the urban centres. It does not just comes under general migration, here marginal farmers and others who hold assets in the rural areas are force to come in the urban peripheries to eke out a living and stay in temporary shelter and seek regular support of the government.  Public health crisis is another neglected issue in the present day relief centric drought risk management. The unequal impact of drought on different social groups needs to assess, however, no such attempts have been made to assess the differential impact of drought.

Drought induced Migration

Climate induced migration has been reported across the world, however, India is considered as safe from these. Drought refugee camps in Ghatkopar and Thane area of Maharashtra prove how awful India’s drought management system is. Farmers are migrating to urban centres and engage in the informal labour market for bare minimum wages. Government permits them to put their temporary tent. They are belong to the category of internally displaced people and, unfortunately, there is no law exists to deal with the internally displaced people. So the absence of law benefits the government not to get into finding any permanent solution. People who migrate are farmers and rural workers and not necessarily have all the skill to eke out a living in the urban areas. So they are force to work for bare minimum wages and depend on government and non-governmental agencies’ humanitarian support. They are drought refugees as well.

MGNREGA as a solution

The only active response towards drought is increase the number of working days of MGNREGA from 100 days to 150 days. However the large scale migration and refugee camps in the urban areas proved those additional work days in MGNREGA is a failure. Drought reduces the consumption of essential commodities and widens the inequality of access to water. Too much relief and the state’s claim delimit the structural solution to the problem. For instance, no minister or bureaucrat speaks on sugar cane farming in Maharashtra, beer factories and river water diversions. Everybody knows that these are the permanent solutions and too much of reliefism undermine the demand for structural solutions. Also taking individual vulnerability as a point of state intervention to reduce the drought risk never going to offer any credible solution.

(The author is an Assistant professor in Tata Institute of Social Sciences)


Updated Date: May 05, 2016 12:59 PM

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