The Maharashtra government declared drought in 151 tehsils spread across 26 districts on Wednesday, taking the first step in a months-long process to provide farmers with relief measures and alternative employment. A little less than half of all tehsils in the state are reeling under drought — 112 tehsils are facing severe drought conditions, which means more than 60% of the crops have been damaged, while the remaining 39 tehsils are facing moderate drought, where crop damage is more than 33.5%. Of Maharashtra’s 358 tehsils in 36 districts, tehsils in 26 districts are affected by drought, a government resolution, issued on Wednesday, said. The government will put in place relief measures to help farmers, such as waiving farm loans, granting exemptions in land revenue, a 33.5% concession on electricity bills of agriculture pumps, waiving exam fees of students in schools and colleges and sending drinking water tankers, among other steps.
Our team of 4 researchers set off on an independent field trip to Nandurbar on 30th November 2018. We selected this district for our observational study because Nandurbar is not just one of the most backward districts of Maharashtra, it faces a unique administrative challenge because of sharing its borders with Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. We wanted to understand what are the needs and gaps in this region of Maharashtra and what kind of resources or innovations in either technology or system design would be useful in meeting these gaps.
The regions we covered during our trip were: Nawapur, Nandurbar, Taloda, Akrani and Akkalkuwa.
As we travelled from Mumbai into Gujarat and back to Maharashtra to reach Nandurbar district, the contrasting development levels were striking. We saw primitive farming methods, fragile tribal homes and a struggle to keep up with depleting water resources. We interacted with graduate students who were still unemployed and patients who had travelled for more than 50 km to reach the hospitals.
The biggest challenge of ensuing draught condition is clearly alarming, particularly for some villages like Karli in the eastern part of Nandurbar where the ground water is almost zero and the village is supplied water tanks almost once every 7 to 10 days, the stories of distress shared by the local villagers. The soil was dry and the borewells were often dug upto 500 feet deep, still, with no success of finding water.
We found the hardest hit regions of Akkalkuwa and Akrani regions to be sandwiched between rivers Tapi and Narmada, with large capacity water reservoirs but this too had not prevented the region from suffering extreme dryness.
We found the most frequent crops grown in this region were bajra, sugarcane and cotton. A few fields had grown papayas and bananas. Some locals reported that chilies and turmeric are also grown widely. Sugarcane and cotton are considered to need a lot of water for their growth.
Accessibility to healthcare is a challenge for the regions of Akrani and Akkalkuwa where there are scattered tribal populations living in the Saputara hills with scarce healthcare resources. We were explained that ‘floating hospitals’ in Narmada River are used to serve populations in the hills and bus is loaded with patients every day to be brought to the district hospital daily. The tertiary care is available only in the town of Nandurbar and all serious cases are carried by ambulances, who often take a long time to reach the patients and take them back. A couple of Blood banks are also only available in the district capital and any patient in need of blood transfusion is brought all the way to the hospitals and nursing homes in district capital. The village hospital that we visited, although had sufficient infrastructure, including a non-functional yet fully equipped Operation Theatre, there were no surgeries conducted here, albeit a few periodic laparoscopy camps. More than 100 delivery cases are admitted, but complicated cases needing surgery or advanced care are again referred to the district hospital.
We saw children suffering from Typhoid, senior adults still habituated to open air defecation, malnourished faces but a very sincere nursing staff and health worker team who travel on their personal two-wheeler bikes to reach the farthest of the communities. The ensuing draught may further jeopardize the health levels of the community and it will be a tough challenge to meet. We also interacted with local school teacher and National Youth Volunteers who are keen to provide all the support in our effort to minimize these gaps.Nature can be harsh, but we as humans can at least minimize the impact of the adversities.
Nandurbar Field Trip Report
November 11 2018
Dr Nehaal Mayur, International Development Consultant
Dr Ruchi Saxena, Global Health Systems Consultant
Prakash Nadge, Social Development Research Assistant
Krishna Pagi, Tribal Development Research Assistant