Drought is a natural phenomenon, which happens when an area receives lesser rainfall than expected, or in comparison to the normal rainfall levels for the area. It is a dry situation characterised by deficit rainfall, lack of water for household use or agriculture, or a deficiency of surface or sub-surface water leading to acute shortage of water. Environmental degradation is a major factor that increases the effects of drought.

 Classification of drought

The National Commission on Agriculture in India classified three types of drought: meteorological, agricultural and hydrological.

  • Meteorological drought is defined as a situation when there is significant decrease from normal precipitation over an area (i.e. more than 10 %).
  • Hydrological drought results from prolonged meteorological drought resulting in depletion of surface and sub-surface water resources.
  • Agricultural drought is a situation when soil moisture and rainfall are inadequate to support healthy crop growth. Drought is also classified on the basis of time of onset as early season, mid-season and late season.

Droughts in India have their own peculiarities requiring appreciation of some basic facts. These are:

  • India has an average annual rainfall of around 1150 mm; no other country has such a high annual average, however, there is considerable annual variation.
  • More than 80% of rainfall is received in less than 100 days during the South-west monsoon and the geographic spread is uneven.
  • 21% area receives less than 700 mm rains annually making such areas the hot spots of drought.
  • Inadequacy of rains coupled with adverse land-man ratio compels the farmers to practice rain-fed agriculture in large parts of the country.
  • Irrigation, using groundwater aggravates the situation in the long run as ground-water withdrawal exceeds replenishment; in the peninsular region availability of surface water itself becomes scarce in years of rainfall insufficiency.
  • Per capita water availability in the country is steadily declining.
  • As against total annual availability 1953 km3, approximately 690 km3 of surface water and 396 km3 of from ground water resources can be put to use. So far, a quantum of about 600 km3 has been put to use.
  • The traditional water harvesting systems have been largely abandoned.

Impact of drought

  • Drought affects Farmers: It causes loss of crops, lack of fodder and water to feed their cattle
  • Drought affects Poor Families: Constant drought reduces agricultural production. This leads to insufficient availability or supply of crops in the market. We learn in economics, that when demand is more than supply, the prices increase. Food-grains become costly, and poor people suffer because of inadequate purchasing power.
  • Drought affects Women: Even today, especially in rural India, women don’t have the same status as men in society. This means that they are not given their fair share in access to nutritious food, good living conditions, education, health, etc. In a drought situation, when there is a dearth of food, women who are usually the last to eat at home, eat the least, and hence suffer from malnutrition. Drought also increases their work burden, since they have to work longer to earn the same wages, and often travel longer to fetch water, fodder and fuel-wood.
  • It affects people living in desert land: They depend more on animal husbandry than on agriculture. Severe scarcity of fodder and water and degradation of vegetation leads to their dependence on assistance from outside, in some areas.
  • It affects employment: A fall in agricultural production leads to a fall in employment opportunities for rural people who depend on agricultural labour for a living. It also causes people to migrate to other places in search of employment. These are called ‘distress migrations’.
  • Drought affects Children: Lack of nutritious food in drought affected areas results in malnutrition, which makes them more prone to various infections and diseases. It affects their health and education, since migrations take them away from school and health camps that also provide vaccinations. School-dropouts most often become wage earners, leading to higher child-labour.

Practice question

Which of the following government initiatives are related to mitigating the impact of Droughts?
     1. National Food Security Act
     2. Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojna
     3. Deen Dayal Antyodaya Mission
     4. Integrated Watershed Management Programme


      a)  2 and 4

      b)  1, 3 and 4

      c)  1, 2 and 4

      d)  All

Ans: d

Exp: National Food Security Act (NFSA) provides foodgrains in drought affected States. Livelihood diversification is an essential part of the drought response strategy. Every block in the drought affected areas is being targeted for intensive work under the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Mission. This involves risk mitigation through the development of multiple livelihoods and by formation and support of self-help groups.