While the overwhelming majority of people in any seriously drought-affected village suffer greatly and all animals also suffer, there are some categories of people who suffer even more and are highly vulnerable.
At the same time their visibility is very low. If a group discussion is organized in a village to know about problems of villagers it is quite likely that many of these most vulnerable people will not even be able to reach the venue.
Hence it is very important to take care of the special needs of these villagers. Mahoba district in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh is recognized as one of the worst drought-affected districts in the country.
While visiting some villages of this district in the first week of May this writer took care to meet some of these most vulnerable people. Large-scale migration of youth has already taken place from these villages. In some cases a migrant worker leaves behind his wife and small children.
They have to face hunger and drinking water shortage on their own. The worker of course tries his best to send subsistence money to his family but this year a lot of migration has taken place from drough taffected areas to Delhi, Mumbai and parts of Gujarat, Punjab and Haryana.
Hence employment prospects have been poorer and wages too have been lower. In these conditions it is not possible to send remittances regularly. What is worse for families who stay back is when there is no word from workers who have gone to remote areas or when they come to know they have been injured in work place or other accidents or are seriously ill. In some cases a migrating worker takes his wife also for work to increase earnings and children stay back with very old and sometimes disabled parents.
Life can be very difficult for these children. But if children leave with their parents then life at the new place can bring different kinds of difficulties. Elderly and often ill people who are left behind in migrant worker households are extremely vulnerable as even bringing drinking water from a distant source can be very difficult for them. Such problems of isolation of elderly people are not confined to migrant worker households.
Due to various reasons many elderly people are leading a lonely existence. Some of them are also disabled. When survival is difficult for everyone, one can imagine how difficult it must be for these elderly, lonely and disabled or ill people to meet their essential needs of food and water, not to mention medicines.
Similarly widows and deserted women also face a lot of problems in coping with the struggle for survival, particularly if they have small children to support. The situation is also very challenging for disabled people as so little care has been taken of their special needs.
Then there are also examples of multiple vulnerability. For example a woman from a poor background may be disabled and at the same time she may also be a widow. In such cases problems can be very acute and one really wonders how they’ll be able to cope with these very harsh times of water and food shortage, not to mention the scorching heat.
In a Bihar village of Jaitpur block I met an 11-year-old girl, Rita, (picture) both of whose parents had migrated for work and at this tender age she has been left more or less alone although her grandparents live next door. She has to fetch water from a source located over half a kilometer away, apart from attending to other household tasks and working on a very meagre diet and low budget.
In the same village lives Sant Ram, a 70-year-old blind man who is dependent on kind souls to give him his day&’s food. Every village has several such highly vulnerable persons or entire households. In Mahuabandh village, I saw Gulabrani, a 70-year-old woman who lives alone and whose back is very badly bent. Yet she has to bring her daily supply of water from a distance of about half a kilometer every day.
Mohan is an 80-year-old poor and disabled resident of this village. His wife Dariya is also disabled. Their daughter Harkunwar, a widow, lives with them and has not been keeping well. Harkunwar&’s daughter is also distressed as she does not know where her husband has gone.
Living in extreme poverty she has just given birth to a baby and doesn’t know how they both will survive. Urmila is a disabled woman of this village who has to bring up four children in conditions of a very serious drought more or less on her own as her husband who left for Delhi as a migrant worker has not returned for a long time. She walks on crutches to bring water from a long distance.
In Karharadang village, Ramsati&’s son Rajan went to work at a construction site in Delhi but was brought back after a serious accident without any compensation having been paid. Now in the middle of all other problems of food and water shortage she also has to think of his treatment. These are only a few examples. But there are many such stories in almost all these drought-affected villages.
Some of them have survived so far only because fellow villagers and neighbours despite their own distress have been helping them. But as the drought situation worsens this ability to help others will also decrease. Therefore it is important to significantly improve the relief effort keeping in mind the special needs of these vulnerable people.