Saturday, 19 July 2008


Western Orissa’s vast tracts of arid land and societies are notorious for drought. It virtually never stops visiting the people here. Generations of lackadaisical attitude and inaction by the governments of the day of the state has exacerbated the situation and has broken the backbone of the weaker sections of people.
The traditional producers and labor classes remain highly vulnerable during the drought. Since, the villages are composed of caste groups, the dry spells, invariably disrupts the equilibrium and dynamics of these societal groups resulting in forced acceptance of non-traditional and infused occupations as a form of coping for survival. The existing stratification system of the villages suffers to a great extent draining out the cultural vigor and disturbing the inter and intra group interaction, essential for survival. In an extreme condition of drought and accompanying shortage of the necessities of life, reciprocity becomes the casualty, weakening social ties further. Due to heightened competition, charity and patronage suffer, putting further strain on social relationship in a close organic group. During such times, the common resources get depleted very fast, at times beyond recovery that acts as an inimical consequence for all at the village. This, in turn gives rise to social tension having enough potential for collective disadvantage for the group in the long run.
In the drought prone areas of Western Orissa, the incident of indebtedness is quite high, almost perpetual and cyclic in nature which is very difficult to break. Most of the groups in these areas resort to homoeostatic adjustments. As a result, the marginal economy operates at sub-optimum level of input infusion to avert or avoid risks. Therefore, the fragile economy remains stagnant and skewed. The overall strategy of people becoming ‘minimum but certain profit’ ultimately fails to support them to any considerable extent. This barrier has to broken up to revive the economy of the drought prone areas of the state by adequate support aimed at generating a basically risk free production and reinvestment scenario with prolong back-up. At this juncture, distress sale, if any has to adequately checked and remunerative price provided to the affected people as a social security measure. All risks acting as impediments of growth are to be addressed with remedial measure to give a fillip to the recovery process.
Even now, distress sale of children, land and other assets are just the realities of the under-developed people of the lifeless villages of Western Orissa. Certainly, it is not the popular folklore but real things which the governments can not admit for political and constitutional compulsions, particularly the starvation deaths of the independent citizens of the country. These are clear sign of degradation in all forms. It is not the paper monster created by the media for the sake of yellow journalism but the chronicle of apathy and failure.
The ever growing food insecurities of the drought affected Western region of the state has to be tackled by shifting our focus from “entitlement to food” to “entitlement to produce and consume food” taking into account the regular and seasonal need of the entire population extending to the entire year along with creation of community and individual productive assets, working capital and fixed assets.
It is a fact that in these dry and under-developed areas, the amount of land owned by people determines their vulnerability to the vagaries of nature. Here, majority of the familial units depend on wage labor or headed by women because of migration of able-bodied men folks to far away places. Such families are characterized by growing children, widows, old parents and the sick members fully or partially not capable of regular work. It increases the dependency level to an unprecedented height and necessitates the migrant male members to stay back at the place of their work for longer periods to earn some extra money for the security of all the family members. The upward mobile or sanskritized and modernized castes and groups tend to take to the arduous route of migration in a conspicuous way, so also a minority amongst the upper castes.
It has been well established that a community fails to absorb the negative impact generated by shortfall of rainfall, which may lead to a drought like situation. Therefore, the preparedness of a people is as important as the ensuing dry spell itself. Here, the causes are many but highly eroded and degraded land thin forest covers, fragile eco-system and near absence of vegetative cover, etc. do hasten the probability of drought to a great extent. Most of the drought prone areas lack such essentials.
Even though the population explosion in the drought affected areas of Western Orissa, particularly in the small urban centers is not a direct cause of its severity; nevertheless this has also to be taken into consideration also for it aggravates the situation. The urban population’s resource needs and increasing consumption requirements put extra and at times unprecedented demands on the ravaged countryside, particularly agricultural produces. The purchasing capability of the urbanites to a considerable extent tilts the balance in their favor. As in other non-drought regions, the pull factors actively drain out the ‘necessities’ from the interiors.
Without adequate healthy and quality livestock, the village economy of Western Orissa remains anything but crippled. It has been observed that the hardship generated by near halt of agricultural operation coupled with paucity of fodder and feed the maintenance of domestic and agricultural animals and birds become unviable and burdensome. Need for cash for partially averting the drought related hunger or even prolonged starvation, servicing of debts that may even run through generations, immediate health concern and the urgency to participate in the socio-religious occasions give rise to unwanted consequences for the people. Sale of the animals is preferred, those who have it to cater to the needs. It contributes negatively to the overall economies of the community and individual families.
The situation pertaining to the availability of clean drinking water in these drought prone areas is dismal. Either water is not available near the habitats as per the intake requirements or is not fit for human consumption. The shortage affects both humans and animals, equally. What is of much concern is that this invariably goes against the womenfolk, who often walk very long distance to fetch water for the household need.
In these drought prone areas people have to cope with high health risks. Polluted water, inadequate food, infection and stress take the toll. Health delivery system being almost nil along with prohibitive cost of treatment contribute to the misery. Severe dietary restriction leads to malnutrition in women and children. The probability of morbidity and mortality increases manifold with recurring drought and no viable solutions.
In recent times the areas of Western Orissa is experiencing the incident of acid rains most probably due to rabid industrialization, mining and depletion of forests. The environmental pollution level too, has increased considerably.
Western Orissa requires immediate solutions to its problems—drought, malaria, malnutrition, environmental degradation and pollution, migration, food insecurity, under-development, indebtness, spurious goods, bonded labor etc., to name a few.