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Tuesday, 29 October, 2002, 16:25 GMT
India drought warning
Indian farmer in drought-stricken Rajasthan
Rajasthan has faced several years of drought

Drought in the western Indian state of Rajasthan has caused food shortages and widespread migration among villagers, says a UK-based non-governmental organisation.


I have lost four family members in less than two months because I did not have money to feed them

Murari Shariya, villager
An Indian NGO recently reported the deaths of at least 30 children in Baran district, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the state capital, Jaipur.

NGOs say the spectre of starvation looms large in several parts of the desert state, triggered by drought and subsequent heavy crop losses.

But the authorities in Rajasthan have strongly denied these reports.

'Eating grass'

Gareth Owen of Save the Children told the BBC that the drought situation in Rajasthan was "alarming".

"Scarcity of fodder is the main problem faced in many villages," Mr Owen said. "Villagers say they are leaving for cities."

He said he had travelled widely across the state and found "barren parched fields".

A report issued by Save the Children says drought has severely affected agriculture in Rajasthan, causing food scarcity, and the government distribution system is not working properly.

Kavita Srivastava, a member of the People's Union for Civil Liberties, another NGO, says the situation in Baran district is grim, especially among the Saharia community.

"The affected tribal Saharias are eating grass seeds for survival," she said.

Court ruling

State ministers and senior officials have visited the affected areas to monitor relief work.

Saharia villager in Rajasthan preparing meal with grass seeds
Tribal villagers have been badly hit

Relief Secretary Ram Lubhaya says some deaths may have been caused by disease, but not by hunger.

He said the government had intensified its efforts to improve the situation.

But Murari Shariya from Mundiar village has a different story to tell: "I have lost four family members in less than two months because I did not have money to feed them."

Officials say lack of rain in the last few years had lowered groundwater levels, drying up wells and ponds.

Villagers say they will starve if they do not leave for the cities in search of work.

India's Supreme Court said on Tuesday that state chief secretaries would be held responsible for any deaths caused by starvation or malnutrition.

See also:

18 Oct 02 | South Asia
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