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The BBC's Mike Wooldridge
"It is still getting hotter and dryer by the day"
 real 28k

Monday, 1 May, 2000, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Drought threatening livestock
Bone collector in Rajasthan
Carcasses being readied for transport in Rajasthan
By Mike Wooldridge in Barmer, Rajasthan

Farmers in the western Indian state of Rajasthan are reporting rising livestock losses as drought tightens its grip across a swathe of India.

It is India's worst drought for many years, estimated to be affecting 50 million people.

But it is particularly acute in the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Livestock deaths

The bone-collectors are among the busiest people in the region.

Women in Rajasthan
Pastoral lands have turned into desert
One camel-driven cart brought in some 30 cattle carcasses - sheep losses are higher.

For many villagers in this district, it means a sharply falling income as their remaining livestock become worthless.

There is less money to spend on food and on top of this, they say much of the water in their wells is now heavily salted and unfit to drink.

One farmer said his family was sharing its food with the animals to try to keep them alive.

A "Save the Cow" movement has been launched in this district urging the government to do more to help the farmers.

Not a drop

With many of their menfolk away in search of a wage they can't earn here, some women are undertaking backbreaking work in the intense heat to earn anything.

We saw the women of one village digging out a silted-up pond on a relief project.

One woman said they were in a very desperate state.

Though this is already the worst drought most people here can remember, they feel its effects have been exacerbated by the growing desertification of the area and the long-term disappearance of pasture.

Relief schemes may yet prevent this turning into a famine, but with India's population expected to cross one billion next week, the underlying issue of reducing the vulnerability of the poor remains key.

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