Armed guards protect last water in drought-parched Indian city

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India's worst drought in decades
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Armed guards protect last water in drought-parched Indian city
Residential apartments are seen next to the dried-up Ratanpura lake on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India May 9, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A girl carries a metal pitcher filled with water through a field in Latur, India, April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A municipal worker puts fish in a drum after removing them from the dried-up Ratanpura lake before moving them to the Sabarmati river, on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, India, May 10, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man sleeps in a traffic policeman's booth on a hot summer day in Kolkata, India, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
A worker checks the water level on a tanker wagon at a railway station in Latur, India, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Young girls carry containers filled with drinking water beside the railway station in Agartala, India, April 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jayanta Dey TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man covers his face as he pushes a bicycle through a dust storm on the banks of the Ganga river in Allahabad, India, April 12, 2016 REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Residents hold plastic hoses as they wait for the government-run water tanker in Masurdi village, in Latur, India, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A dog drinks water from a puddle of water next to the cracked soil at Manjara dam in Osmanabad, India, April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Boys cool off under a water fountain on a hot summer evening in New Delhi, India, April 25, 2016. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Residents hold plastic hoses as they fetch water from a government-run water tanker in Masurdi village, in Latur, India, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Men wash at a roadside municipal tap at a market area in Kolkata, India, April 8, 2016 REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
Children play in mud to cool off on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 4, 2016. Temperature in New Delhi on Monday is expected to reach to 38 degree Celsius (100.4 degree Fahrenheit), according to India's metrological department website. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
People fill their containers with water from water at a village in Osmanabad, India, April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A man sleeps on a used motor under a tree on a hot summer day at a roadside motor pump workshop in the old quarters of Delhi, India May 2, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo GLOBAL BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD PACKAGE - SEARCH 'BUSINESS WEEK AHEAD MAY 9' FOR ALL IMAGES
Labourers sweep dust and stones at a road construction site in Ahmedabad, India, May 3, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave
A child sleeps in a hammock along a sidewalk on a hot summer day in Ahmedabad, India, April 19, 2016. REUTERS/Amit Dave
Cracked soil at Manjara Dam is seen in Osmanabad, India, April 17, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A woman bathes at a roadside municipal tap in a slum area on a hot summer day on the outskirts of Kolkata, India, April 22, 2016. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
Residents wait with their containers to collect water in Latur, India, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A man bathes by the roadside on a hot day in New Delhi, India, April 8, 2016. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Containers belonging to residents filled with water are seen in Masurdi village, in Latur, India, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
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TIKAMGARH, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Authorities in this drought-parched city in central India have deployed round-the-clock armed guards at a river-fed community reservoir to prevent farmers from siphoning the remaining water for irrigation.

With rainfall in Tikamgarh district this year 52 percent below average – the second dry year for the area – water is now available to city residents only sporadically, with fears even that may run out during the peak heat months of May and June, authorities say.

SEE ALSO: Rise in heat waves tied to kidney disease 'epidemics'

Forty-seven-year-old Suryakant Tiwari, one city resident, said his family and many others now have drinking and household water supplied only once every five days.

"I have not seen such a condition in my lifetime. Almost every water source in the area has dried up. We don't know how we will survive," Tiwari he said.

Farmers have been prohibited from drawing water from reservoirs to irrigate their crops. But Tikamgarh Municipal Corporation officials fear farmers from adjoining Uttar Pradesh state - whose farms border the Bari Ghat dam, fed by the Jumuniya River - are poaching water to try to keep their crops alive.

"If crops continue to be irrigated using the river water, it is not going to last long and there will be severe crisis during the summer season," warned Laxmi Giri, the Tikamgahr municipal corporation president. "Our priority is to supply drinking water to the people."

The Jamuniya River is the only source of drinking water for over 100,000 people in Tikamgarh, she said.

But "farmers of the neighboring state try to open the gates of the dam and draw water illegally using pipelines. We're therefore compelled to deploy guards," Giri said.

'NEVER BEEN SO BAD'

Tikamgarh is hardly alone. The drought-ravaged Bundelkhand, a region in central India spread over the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, is suffering some of the worst drought in memory.

Crops in the area have been badly hit, cattle are dying of thirst and lack of grazing, and there are growing fears that even drinking water could run dry before the monsoon is expected to begin in June.

"All the ponds, reservoirs and water bodies which earlier supplied water in areas of Tikamgarh have dried up. With no water available for irrigation, farmers have abandoned their crops and are migrating to nearby urban areas in search of livelihood and for sustenance. Life is really hard for them," said Rajendra Adhvrayu, a local journalist who writes on water issues in the region.

"The situation has never been so bad," he added. "This is for the first time that the tussle over water has degenerated into a battle of sorts. We fear the situation will be grave during the coming months."

Water Crisis in Western India

The Jamuniya River separates Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh states along some of its length. A 1974 water sharing pact gives Madhya Pradesh 17 percent of the water stored in the Jamuniya Dam in Uttar Pradesh.

Madhya Pradesh stores its share in five dams, including the Bari Ghat. But this year, water is available only in Bari Ghat dam. Water in the four other dams – Harpura, Charpuva, Madiya and Sudan – has run out.

Giri said authorities in Tikamgarh had shut off the electrical supply to farmers in neighboring Uttar Pradesh to try to prevent pumping of water from the dam for irrigation.

Farmers have instead turned to using diesel pumps to pull water from the reservoir, he said. "The administration has failed to convince them not to draw water illegally from the dam," she said.

Meanwhile, the Indian Met Department's prediction that the entire country could be abnormally hot in May and June, with longer and more severe heat waves, has unnerved many people in the Bundelkhand.

India's weather office has predicted that monsoon rains are likely to be above average this year, a potential source of relief. But the rains, normally due the second week of June, have been regularly delayed in recent years.

Jayant Verma, a resident of Tikamgarh, said moving elsewhere to find water, even temporarily, is not an option for many families.

"My children attend the school here. I have a job here. I can't go to any other place along with my family. I don't know what we shall do. The government has failed to provide any relief so far," he said.

The search for water has become so intense that in many places – including Madhya Pradesh's Dindori district – children are descending into deep, almost-dry wells to try to fetch what little water is available, residents said.

In some areas of the Bundelkhand, farmers have been unable to sow any crops this year, they said, and animals are at risk.

"Animals are dying without water. We can't do anything," said Kanta Prasad, a resident of the Jatara sub-district of Tikamgarh. "If we give water to animals, there'll be none left for us. We're feeling so helpless. Every drop of water counts."

The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chouhan has promised that drinking water will be made available to those who need it. He said the government has prepared a contingency plan to address the worsening drought, and announced a high-level review of the situation in the region.

Residents, meanwhile, can do little but wait for rain, and worry.

"What will happen if the monsoon is delayed?" asked Adhvrayu. "Or it plays truant, as in previous years?"

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