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The BBC's Jennifer Jensen
"Worst drought in more than a century"
 real 28k

The BBC's Satish Jacob in Delhi
"People in the countryside are having to walk miles to distant wells in search of a few drops of water"
 real 28k

Sunday, 23 April, 2000, 16:31 GMT 17:31 UK
Drought appeal in India

The Indian prime minister has made a personal appeal to the nation for financial help for the millions facing food and water shortages in drought-hit areas.

The states of Gujarat and Rajasthan are experiencing the worst drought in more than a century after the failure of last year's monsoon rains.



In village after village, hunger stalks men, women and children

Atal Behari Vajpayee
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said that state aid was not enough and he appealed for contributions - however small - to a national relief fund.

Delhi has promised to provide food aid in places where famine is feared, and ordered tanker trains to step up the delivery of emergency water supplies.

"Crops have withered away, water resources have dried up, there is no fodder for cattle," Mr Vajpayee said in an address to the nation broadcast on Sunday.

"In village after village, hunger stalks men, women and children."


Delhi resident
Mercury rising: Temperatures are already above average
Up to 50 million people could be in danger of falling short of food.

Hundreds of thousands of cattle and goats have already died.

The situation could worsen in the coming weeks, with temperatures expected to exceed 45C. Temperatures in Delhi are already 6C above normal for this time of year.

The monsoon is not expected to arrive for another month, and it is feared that those who have lost cattle and crops will be dependent on food aid for years.

The lower house of Parliament is due to debate the crisis on Monday.

Riots

The government's appeal came in the wake of riots on Friday in some of the worst affected areas, where tap water is available for about 15 minutes a day.


Dried out river bed
Many reservoirs in the region are bone-dry
The Gujarat Water Minister, Narottam Patel, said that "a great deal of pressure" on the local administration would be eased with the government decision to send water by train.

"Vajpayee's offer to dispatch trains to Gujarat carrying water is good news. It gives us an option if things get bad to worse," said Mr Patel.

The BBC correspondent in Delhi, Daniel Lak, says there is no other way to get water to those areas.

Gujarat is India's largest producer of cotton and peanuts.

The drought damaged crops and left a damage estimated to be up to $1bn.

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See also:

21 Apr 00 | South Asia
India suffers severe drought
20 Apr 00 | South Asia
Fears rise as drought continues
14 Apr 00 | South Asia
Severe drought in southern Pakistan
19 Apr 00 | South Asia
Gujarat drought sparks protests
19 Apr 00 | South Asia
Bank urges states to share water
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