Nation Other News 27 Apr 2016 Trafficking risk ris ...

Trafficking risk rises as villagers flee drought-hit areas across India

REUTERS | DECCAN CHRONICLE
Published Apr 27, 2016, 11:15 am IST
Updated Apr 27, 2016, 11:56 am IST
About 330 million people, almost a quarter of the country's population, are now affected by drought, the govt estimates.
A farmer shows his irrigation pond which completely dried up as a result of drought during harsh summer at Pulappalli in Wayanad. (Photo: PTI)
 A farmer shows his irrigation pond which completely dried up as a result of drought during harsh summer at Pulappalli in Wayanad. (Photo: PTI)

Mumbai: The worst drought in decades across several states in India is forcing tens of thousands of people to migrate from rural areas in search of water, food and jobs, increasing the risk that they may be trafficked or exploited, activists said.

About 330 million people, almost a quarter of the country's population, are now affected by drought, the government estimates. Destitute women, children and older family members left behind in the villages are most at risk of exploitation.

"People in the rural areas have always been vulnerable because they want better jobs, better lives," said Mangala Daithankar at non-profit Social Action for Association and Development in Pune.

Read: India’s droughts a man-made failure

"The drought has aggravated the situation because they are so desperate now. They have absolutely nothing," said Daithankar, who has worked in the state's drought-hit Marathwada region for about two decades.

Maharashtra is one of the worst affected states, with successive years of poor rainfall ravaging crops, killing livestock, drying up reservoirs and forcing farmers into indebtedness that has led to thousands of suicides.

In Jalna district, scores of villages house only destitute women and children left in the care of older relatives who keep an eye on their homes and parched fields.

Read: Aamir Khan adopts 2 drought-hit villages in Maharashtra

"There's no water, so there are no jobs to be had on the fields and no food to feed their families," said Vishwanath Todkar at non-profit Paryay in Osmanabad district, which is helping build water management systems in some villages.

"The women and children are particularly vulnerable, as there is no one looking out for them," he said.

Read: Maharashtra releases 1 TMC feet of water to help North Karnataka

Massive distress

Men and their wives have moved to cities including Mumbai and Pune in search of jobs on construction sites and as day labourers, sleeping under flyovers and on pavements. Some have been reduced to begging on the streets, activists say.

Others, with their families, have been lured to work for little money in harsh conditions in one of the hundreds of brick kilns in the state. Many single women and widows have been trafficked into prostitution in the cities.

Read: Govt approves Rs 842 crore for parched Karnataka, flood-affected Puducherry

"Disasters are the ground zero for trafficking," said Dhananjay Tingal, executive director at Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), which says it has rescued more than 85,000 children from modern slavery in India.

"Everyone's so focussed on just getting by, that they are easy prey," he said.

A police spokesman in Mumbai said police had not found cases of drought-related human trafficking but were aware of the rise in migration and remained vigilant.

Read: Karnataka’s drought toll: 136 taluks and counting

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has pledged a nationwide drive to conserve water, but activists and economists have slammed the government's lack of "compassion" on the issue.

In an open letter to Modi, 170 activists, academics and economists said the drought had resulted in "massive distress movement of populations, causing broken childhoods, interrupted education, life in camps, city pavements or crowded shanties".

In Maharashtra, among the wealthiest states in the country, the drought has not stemmed the flow of migrants from neighbouring Karnataka and elsewhere, seeking work. The drought has hit an estimated 10 million people in Karnataka.

Read: North karnataka headed for worst drought?

In some places the drought is spurring the migration of entire families, including the elderly and children who would traditionally have been left behind, activists say.

"The crisis is by far the worst the region has seen in many years. There is no fodder, no water and no agriculture in the region as of now," said Amlan Aditya Biswas, regional commissioner in Gulbarga in Karnataka. "We are concerned about the spurt in migration," he said.

The state government is working on building farm ponds and de-silting tanks in the hope that the monsoon rains in June will fill them and provide some relief to small farmers, he said.

For now, those left behind in the villages are tending to their fields, digging wells and laying down drip irrigation systems as they await the monsoon rains - which are expected to be above average this year, easing some fears.

"It all depends now on the rains," said Daithankar. "People will come back to the villages if the rains are good. Otherwise there is nothing for them to come back to."

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