HEALTH MATTERS: Drought Conditions and Impact on Health in Rural Communities

monsoon_farmerThis year, there has been a significant delay in the arrival of the monsoon. As a result, many villages across several states across the country are facing severe drought. These dry, barren and arid areas have a direct impact on the lives of those who reside in these areas.

Since a majority of families have poor resources and are vulnerable communities, thousands of families across the country located especially in rural areas where they are engaged in farming are severely affected by drought. In a number of drought-affected regions it has been found that the land is dry, barren and arid areas, which has a direct impact on the lives of those who reside in rural areas.

The ten-drought hit states currently affected are Maharashtra, Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Telengana and Karnataka. In each of these draught hit states along with severe shortage of water, the growing heat wave has put the population at risk.

Many lives are at stake since water is essential for survival. In Telangana alone heat wave has already claimed 66 lives. The concern is that with no change in the climate condition, many more lives could be lost. Despite the growing concerns, appropriate measures for these affected areas have not been taken at the grassroots level by the state.

So far the State governments have not provided advance warning across states about the emerging adverse weather conditions caused by weak monsoon and its impact on the community. Across a majority of drought prone areas, the dry environment led to severe water shortage. Apart from the dry climate, Rainfall deficit poses another challenge. No rainfall is the main reason why clean drinking water is not available in these regions.

A multiple number of impoverished families not only struggle to access clean drinking water but also face hunger since there is also a significant scarcity of food products in their habitats.

Among these communities, they not only face starvation but more importantly the situation also poses a serious health risk for families across all age groups. It also creates a long term health impact on the population, which is also the main cause for multiple diseases in these communities. The most affected groups are the marginalized communities, some of them tribals, across a number of states who live in far off areas, they face the risk of a number of ailments and even death since they have no support from the State government.

Poor Availability of Water and Food Grains Impacts Health

Measuring Malnutrition Photo credit: DFID/CC BY 2.0

Measuring Malnutrition
Photo credit: DFID/CC BY 2.0

Water shortage has a significant impact on health. In areas where they reside, since the land is dry and arid no farming can be done. Those who choose to remain at the village to try and work on growing rice, lentils and vegetables, are only not able to complete the process of generating food products.

In fact, there are several cases where families fell severally ill and suffered from hunger pangs, because they were not able to access adequate supplies of food, such as vegetables, rice and clean water. These communities face the risk of infectious disease and starvation as well.

In these communities it has also been found that since their food intake is extremely low due to non-availability of food products, it results in both mortality and morbidity in rural areas across all states.

People, especially adolescents and children are malnourished because they lack protein energy. Besides, many also have vitamin deficiency, which can not only increase the risk of deaths but also cause infections like measles.

Besides, lack of water supply and clean sanitation at the households not only infects the environment but also poses a major threat for families of acquiring communicable and infectious diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.

However, for the community, which is highly impoverished, it is a challenge to address health care and ensure proper sanitation in order to prevent and mitigate the impact on the lives of people. In many areas, the Primary Health Care and Sub-Centres are non functional. In many rural settings, the health workers do not come so medical care is not available for the ailing persons.

The district officials indifference towards these marginalized communities across all states living in far off areas is linked to discrimination since they are vulnerable tribes, one of the main cause why they believe that the risk of disease may lead to death.

Measures to prevent Disease and Ailments in the Affected Community Due to Drought

During the monsoon season when droughts occur, the method to prevent these impoverished communities from facing the risk of adverse climate conditions and mortality, it is imperative that the community is informed about the increasing risk of adverse climate much in advance as well as be prepared to have enough food, water, proper sanitation and also take care of their families health.

Through early interventions, communities can be made aware about the prevalence of drought so that the community will not be exposed to disasters and health problems. Only then can they be saved from illness and death.

Forecasting can be used to provide advance warning of the increased risk of adverse climate conditions and can support the disaster risk reduction process. Each area should be reviewed and assessed and the information should be shared with the community, which will help strengthen drought preparedness in the community. Such steps will also ensure these communities will not only be safe in terms of health and livelihood but also be able to produce food products to sustain themselves.

Mohuya Chaudhuri is a senior journalist and researcher