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The BBC's Daniel Lak
"In this parched, poverty stricken place the drought has devastated rural life"
 real 28k

A.K. Rakesh, District Collector, Rajkot, Gujarat
describes measures to help people hit by drought
 real 28k

Wednesday, 26 April, 2000, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
India dismisses drought fears
Women with water jars
The long walk in search of water in Gujarat state
The Indian Government says it has enough food and other commodities to deal with the shortages created by the severe drought affecting parts of the country.

Officials say they are getting water and food to the needy but conditions could worsen considerably if it did not rain soon.

There will be no shortage of food whatsoever

Consumer Affairs Minister Shanta Kumar

Consumer Affairs Minister Shanta Kumar dismissed fears that India might have to import grain to meet the demand for food and fodder - even if the drought situation got worse.

"There will be no shortage of food whatsoever," Mr Kumar said in an interview with Reuters.

People in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are struggling to find drinking water, and their crops have already withered away.

Hundreds of thousands of cattle and goats have died, but so far, no human deaths have been linked to the drought.

Government aid

The government announced on Tuesday that it was sending more emergency aid to drought-hit areas.

MPs have also decided to donate a month's salary to relief efforts.

Indian Prime Minister
The government has faced criticism over its response

The aid package followed criticism that the government's response to the crisis was inadequate, and that its long-term planning for such emergencies had failed.

Shanta Kumar said some 500,000 tonnes of wheat and rice would be sent to Rajasthan and 300,000 tonnes to Gujarat - all from central government stocks.

He also said that there would no problem in supplying other essentials like edible oils and sugar.

And he pledged to ensure that prices would not be allowed to rise because of shortfalls.

'Normal monsoon'

Mr Kumar also brushed aside fears that this year's monsoon could be smaller than last year.

The Bangalore-based Centre for Mathematical Modelling and Computer Simulation said on Tuesday that the total amount of rainfall would be down on the 1999 figure.

But Mr Kumar said: "We have already got the feedback from the India Meteorological Department that this year it will be a normal monsoon."

The failure of monsoons for two years running has exacerbated long-running water shortages in the areas affected.

India receives about three-quarters of its rainfall from the annual monsoon which runs from June to September.

Mr Kumar said he had also asked state governments to start free kitchens and a food-for-work programme in affected areas - to be paid for by the central government.

The state government in Rajasthan has already decided to increase the number of people engaged in relief work.

The Rajasthan government has also announced that it will bring in fodder from neighbouring Punjab and Haryana, and distribute it free to drought-affected areas.

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See also:

24 Apr 00 | South Asia
India approves urgent drought relief
25 Apr 00 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Struggling with drought
24 Apr 00 | South Asia
In pictures: India's heatwave
14 Apr 00 | South Asia
Severe drought in southern Pakistan
19 Apr 00 | South Asia
Gujarat drought sparks protests
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