The retreating monsoon created a deep depression over the west-central Bay of Bengal which weakened as it moved over coastal States, resulting in heavy downpours over several districts of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha. The heavy downpours for a week created a flood-like situation in these States, which were already weighed down by the coronavirus pandemic.
The massive flood-like situation in these States put additional fiscal pressure on the economy and crippled it. Thousands of hectares of agricultural land were flooded, and most of the rabi crops are damaged. Mid-October is the peak season for harvesting soybean, paddy and other vegetable crops. The question of lives and livelihood is a matter of deep concern for small and marginal farmers as well as the socio-economically disadvantaged sections of society.
According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, in 2019, it was estimated that around 496 human lives, 7,102 livestock and around 5.99 lakh houses were damaged besides crops were affected in 4.01 lakh hectares due to flood and rain-related events.
Farms Most Vulnerable
It is found that floods mainly affect agriculture and its allied sectors. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra are the major agricultural States with multi-crop diversity in an agriculture season. Around 68.84% of the population lives in rural areas and around 31% in urban areas (Census 2011). The percentage of the rural population of these States is higher than other States, excluding Maharashtra, which has an average of about 70%.
Agriculture and allied activities contributed the largest share to the gross State domestic product (GSDP), and a majority of people are directly or indirectly dependent on this sector for employment, as per the government report of 2018-19. The unexpected rains and floods created uncertainties for agriculture activities such as sowing, plantation and breeding, automatically washing out crops and farmland.
Women Hard Hit
Another important aspect is the impact it has on women. Women are the most vulnerable section of society during a flood or in the context of any disaster. All the household work as well as agricultural activities are mostly done by women. Households headed by a female often depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, mostly the socially- disadvantaged sections like the SCs and the STs. According to Census 2011, around 25% and 13% respectively in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, while around 16% SC and 17% ST in Karnataka and 16% SC and 14% ST households in Maharashtra are headed by a female member.
These households are considered as the most vulnerable members of the community from the socio-economic point of view. However, women are mostly viewed as agricultural labourers rather than farmers. They undertake agricultural operations such as sowing, plantation, weeding and harvesting.
Women are employed as agricultural labourers and often paid less than men for the same work. Along with agricultural activities, they also perform domestic work such as cooking, cleaning and raising children and are involved in subsistence farming mainly for family consumption. The women are always running from pillar to post for livelihood during a crisis like a flood. They are also engaged as casual workers in such circumstances.
Livestock rearing is one of the most important economic activities for rural areas. It is found that livestock is an important tool for livelihood transformation and women empowerment. However, decrease in livestock population due to floods is a common occurrence.
Livestock also contributes significantly to the national economy. It has generated regular income for small and marginal farmers and is also a safety net for landless farmers or social-economically marginal sections of people. Apart from providing regular income, livestock is also a better alternative source of nutrition in the form of meat, egg, milk, and milk-based products. Therefore, livestock is an additional alternative source of income and nutritional security for a majority of households.
The poor and marginal sections rear smaller livestock like goat, sheep, pigs, chicken and ducks, while better-off farmers rear cattle, buffalo and horses. According to the Department of Animal Husbandry and Fisheries, poultry population is around 320.8 million and cattle 33.5 million (Livestock Census, 2019). The early flood situation washed out almost all the poultry and livestock, thereby affecting the lives of these people.
No Strategic Plan
The present government at the Centre does not have any strategic plan to tackle flood situations in these States. On the other hand, State governments are busy with the pandemic and its management, while the loss of lives, crops, and livestock continued for a couple of weeks. There is an acute shortage of food and a large number of animals are dying without grass and fodder.
It’s ironic that such disasters compound the misery of the people despite India being a signatory to the three frameworks — Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement — to reduce the disaster risk vulnerability in a sustainable manner. To control the flood risk, the State governments should collaborate with agencies like civil society organisations and other stakeholders so as to come up with better flood management plans. Besides, latest technologies to forecast flood for monitoring reservoirs or rainfall data on a real-time basis could be one of the solutions for mitigating losses and better flood management.
(Dr Kalu Naik is a Research Associate at ICAR–National Institute of Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, Arun Kumar is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute)
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