The tribal herdsmen of Kutch are leaving their grasslands -- in search of grass

The region is grappling with the worst drought in the past 20 years. While humans are suffering, animals are the worst hit. Villagers are not in a position to feed them or give them water, so they are migrating en masse

Mithilesh Dhar

Mithilesh Dhar   8 Jun 2019 1:10 PM GMT

Edited by: Swati Subhedar

Mithilesh Dhar Dubey & Ranvijay Singh

"I am the only one living in this village. Everyone else has left. This drought has been the deadliest," said Sahab Ali, 40, who lives in Nanasarada village, Kutch Gujarat. There are more than 650 homes in this village, but all the houses were locked. People have migrated, along with their cattle.

This village is situated in Kutch's Bunni Grassland, the largest grassland in the Indian subcontinent spread across 2,500 sq kms. The region is known for rich wildlife and biodiversity, but at present it is in the grip of a severe drought.

This year's drought in Kutch was the worst in past 20 years.

A report released by the State Level Bankers' Committee last year mentioned that 401 villages in Gujarat are drought-hit. 50% of these villages are in Kutch.

"Worst drought of my life"

"I am 25. I was very young when I first experienced drought. But this year's drought has been the worst so far. All the villagers have left. They will come back only when it will start raining," said Alladdin Yusuf Mumba, who lives in a village in Bunni Grassland.

Alladdin had many animals. Most of them died.

An elderly gentleman was lying on a cot close by. "He lost all his animals," Alladdin told us.

As per the State Emergency Operation Centre, Kutch experienced only 25% of the average rainfall in 2018. According to the India Meteorological Department, Kutch recorded 56.58% rain deficit in 2017.

Animals are mute sufferers

People living in Bunni Grassland area are predominantly dependent on animal rearing to make a living.

"Here, each villager has 50-300 animals. In some villages, animals outnumber humans. So in drought years, animals suffer because they don't get water and fodder," said Dr Pankaj Joshi, who works with Sahjeevan, an organisation that has been working on issues related to water and eco system since past 35 years.

The last animal census conducted in 2012 revealed that there were 19 lakh livestock in Kutch. These include buffalo, cows, goats and camels. There are 10 lakh camels here. What's interesting is that the population of Kutch is around 20 lakh.

Alladdin was crossing this village along with his family and 300 cows.

"I live in Misriyada village, which is 10 kms from here. I couldn't provide enough water and fodder to my cattle, so I left," he said.

Alladdin first went to a village 40 kms from his village. But he could not arrange for fodder there, so he had to come back. He was at a cattle camp, where animals are given 250-300 kgs fodder.

"Why is this year's drought dangerous?"

"People living here faced drought in the 1990s, but the region has seen decent rainfall since 2000s. In such a scenario, life style of people changed," said Yogesh Jadeja, director, Arid Community and Technology.

He added: "This drought has hit people after 20-long years. They are not able to deal with it. It didn't rain last year and this year is a drought year. This combination has rattled people. This is the wrath of nature."

Arid Community and Technology has been studying ground water in Kutch for past 14 years.

Though the government has been providing water from Narmada canal to villages in Bunni Grassland, it's not sufficient.

"This drought is the worst drought in past 20 years," confirmed Kutch district collector Ramya Mohan.

Why the drought?

Experts blame it on changing climate and natives not following traditional means to store and replenish water anymore.

"Since ages, people living here have been storing monsoon water in artificial wells and using it in summers. But now they don't do this anymore after they started getting water from Narmada," said Jadeja.

Another reason is that number of animals has gone up.

"Earlier, people used to rear fewer animals owing to frequent droughts. But because of climate change and expansion of milk market, people started rearing more animals. As a result of this, the ecological balance went for a toss."

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