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Thursday, 27 April, 2000, 17:39 GMT 18:39 UK
Oxfam issues drought warning

Drinking water has become a priority for most people
By South Asia analyst Alastair Lawson

The international aid agency, Oxfam, says that the drought in parts of India and Pakistan has been made worse by over-exploitation of water supplies for commercial ends.

In a report released in London, Oxfam says that much of the land in areas where there is currently a water shortage now face the additional threat of desertification.

Oxfam is one of the few western aid agencies active in drought hit areas in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Receding water

The Oxfam report warns that over-exploitation of water resources over the past 20 years has caused water tables to recede at an alarming rate.

People have to travel far in search of water
This in turn has meant that many community wells have dried up.

According to Oxfam, both drinking water and water for agriculture in much of South Asia are available from two main sources.

The first is rain water that collects during the monsoon season from July to August.

The second source is a network of wells, some of which are as much as 200 metres (600 feet) below the surface. Saline water

The rainwater is collected in ponds or underground water tanks, and usually lasts for a period of eight months from mid-July to mid-March.

Oxfam says that these rainwater supplies will soon run out altogether because of the drought.

Digging frantically for water as supplies run low

That means that wells have become the main source of water supplies earlier than expected.

But according to Oxfam, these groundwater resources are becoming increasingly saline.

The water is only suitable for washing and bathing.

As community wells are becoming drained of water, recourse is made to transporting water over land.

This is done by using camels pulling 500-litre tanks, or by the use of carts or tractors carrying bowsers of 2,500-5,000 litres.

Livestock threatened

Oxfam say that this inevitably results in drinking water becoming the priority for most people rather than agriculture.

Large areas of land have turned to desert

The aid agency says that livestock in India and Pakistan is now under serious threat.

Roughly 60% of land in drought-affected areas in India has been brought under almost continuous cultivation by irrigation.

But desertification in north Gujarat and southern and western Rajasthan has increased, resulting in less cultivable land.

In Pakistan, the aid agency says that the drought is so severe in the provinces of Sindh and Baluchistan that around 60% of the population has been forced to migrate to areas where there is irrigated land.

The aid agency has warned that it may not be long before there are a number of drought-related deaths in the area stretching from the south of Afghanistan through Pakistan to the Indian states of Gujarat and Rajasthan.

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27 Apr 00 | South Asia
India steps up drought relief
20 Apr 00 | South Asia
Fears rise as drought continues
14 Apr 00 | South Asia
Severe drought in southern Pakistan
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