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Dry borewells, deaths and migrations: Temperatures rising in Andhra’s Rayalaseema area

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Kurnool touched 41 degrees Celsius earlier this week and is likely to see temperatures increase.
Image for representation: PTI
It has been one month since 37-year-old Akula Ramanjeyulu in Andhra’s Kurnool district killed himself late at night, reportedly due to rising debt and a failing crop.
Akula’s crop is said to have failed due to the extreme weather conditions in the Rayalaseema region last year.
Rising temperatures
According to data with the India Meteorological Department (IMD), the maximum temperature for Kurnool touched 41 degrees Celsius this week, and is only expected to go higher.
Reports add that eight people have already died over the last 20 days, due to sun strokes and other heat related reasons.
“Kurnool and other surrounding areas generally witness such weather patterns because it is a semi-arid region. It is located in the interior of the state, compared to the coastal Andhra region. As a result, the nature of its soil is dry, and it becomes more drought-prone,” says Dr K Nagaratna, the scientist in-charge of the Weather Forecasting department at the IMD office in Hyderabad.
Kurnool, is referred to as the ‘Gateway of Rayalaseema’, a region which consists of four districts – Kurnool, Kadapa, Anantapur and Chittoor.
The IMD data showed that other places in the four districts also touched 41 degrees Celsius this week.
“While it is not unusual for the temperature to touch 41 to 42 degrees Celsius in the area during March, this time it does seem like it might increase a bit more,” she adds.
Nagaratna explains that the IMD declares an official ‘heat wave’, if there a deviation of more than 5 degrees Celsius from the expected maximum temperature, and if this weather persists for two or three days.
While it is presently at 41 degrees Celsius, the mean temperature for March in Kurnool district is 38.2 degrees Celsius, thereby already showing a 3 degree rise.
While the IMD has not put out any alert yet, Nagaratna in her personal experience, thinks that temperatures may almost touch 50 degrees Celsius in the next two months.
Drought and migration
The high temperature in the area, has another direct consequence — drought.
While the temperature is normal for the area, several consecutive years of extreme weather, has given rise to several new issues.
The Deccan Chronicle had reported earlier this week that almost one third of Kurnool district was reeling under drought.
Stating that many had abandoned their village, the DC report added that almost 1,500 families have migrated from the district.
Tired of being unable to grow crops, several thousand people from the region migrate every year to the neighbouring states of Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala.
Mostly travelling to Kerala due to higher wages, these men and women take up daily wage jobs and can’t even afford a roof over their head at night. Many sleep on footpaths and on the streets.
Earlier this month, a fact-finding committee from the Rythu Swarajya Vedika visited several mandals in the Rayalaseema region, and released their findings. The findings claimed that 25 farmers killed themselves in the first two months of 2017 in Andhra.
The ground water in the entire Rayalaseema area is also low.
Last year, the state had claimed that the water table of the Rayalaseema area, was 14.43 metres Below Ground Level (BGL) on average.
The report added that water in Prakasam district was 15.71 metres BGL, while Kadapa’s was 15.47 metres BGL. Anantapur was 20.7 metres BGL.
The dropping water levels were due to the indiscriminate digging of borewells by desperate farmers over the past decade, who were looking to save a failing crop.
However, P Chennaiah, General Secretary of Andhra Pradesh Vyavasaya Viritidarulu Union (APVUU) disputes these number by a large margin,
“On the ground, as you travel through various villages, you will see people digging for borewells every 3 or 4 kms apart. 70% of them will fail in tapping ground water, as even 1,200 feet deep borewells are bone dry,” he says.
Saying that there is no surface water in the region, Chennaiah adds that all the lakes in the area have also dried up.
“Every weekend, many locals in the Rayalaseema area, especially Kadapa, used to bring milk from their cattle and sell it in the markets. Now, they are selling their cattle to slaughterhouses as they can’t even feed their cows and buffaloes,” Chennaiah claims.
When asked if the government is doing anything, Chennaiah says, “As of now, no major steps have been taken. Officials have assured us water supply through tankers. They have a fixed amount of water that they ration every two days, but this is not even enough for the people of the household. Quenching the animals’ thirst has become a burden for many.”
Stating that Rayalaseema and Kadapa are going from bad to worse due to very little rainfall, he adds that many cotton crops across Kurnool district are also taking a hit.
“The water problem is going to be really bad this summer, if preventive measures are not taken,” Chennaiah says.
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