Home / World / While the drought drives Indian migration, "Those left behind suffer the most"

While the drought drives Indian migration, "Those left behind suffer the most"

KHARKHARA, India (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – At full moon in January, this bone-dry village in the Indian state of Odisha rages with small feasts cooked to mark the harvest festival of "Pousha Poornima", which is traditionally 10 years old Freedom for farm workers. [18590000] Supari Gwal sits in front of her hut with her son, who is suffering on 27 February 2018 in the drought-affected town of Kharkhara in the eastern state of Odisha in India. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Roli Srivastava

But Kharkhara, in the drought-prone district of Balangir, has not seen a rich crop for years. As the drought worsened, most of the impoverished rural workers of the village left.

Now they work in brick kilns in cities, mostly in South India, and have committed to times of low-paid work in return for a loan to feed their families.

For those who have remained behind in the village ̵

1; older or very sick, and some families still hoping for better times – Pousha Poornima continues, but without the harvest or the return of the bound laborers who remain in their kilns have to .

"Our homes were full of rice during the festival, but there was nothing this year, it was all empty," said Mathura Dharua, a 50-year-old mother of five who works as a daily wage laborer, to the Thomson Reuters Foundation ,

The deterioration of the climate due to extreme weather is driving more people out of their homes around the world, which is a distress for many.

But not only those who are moving face challenges.

Often, those left behind-including those who are simply too poor to move-face the greatest risks as they struggle to survive in an increasingly inhospitable environment of meager resources and the few people they need to leave.


In Kharkhara, Dharua and her husband Maheshwar stayed home when their relatives changed hands. Their neighbors left a few years ago, and now the dirt road that opens their house looks deserted for a good part of the year until the migrants return for a few months.

"More than half of the people have emigrated, but I do not work brickwork and I feel weak, I never left this village and can not go now," Dharua said.

Odisha is one of the poorest states in India, with one of the highest rates of migration, often fueled by drought and a general lack of jobs. An estimated 500,000 people leave this part of the state every year, more than half work in brick kilns.

The western region of the country where Kharkhara is located has been sparsely populated for years, but the rainfall over the past three years has trebled, as officials say.

A television set in the middle of the drought-affected village of Bhalukhai in the eastern state of Odisha, India, February 28, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Roli Srivastava

A "normal" monsoon rains in the district of Balangir amount are decades back almost 1,200 mm, they say.

But over the past two decades, precipitation has dropped significantly and has deteriorated in recent years, said Sarat Chandra Sahu, director of the weather office in Odisha.

In 2017, Balangir District recorded only 840mm of rainfall.

As the farms withered and the peasants left, the backward villagers turned to surrounding forests, cut down teak for wood to sell to traders, and cleared the land to grow heat-resistant cotton.

The loss of green has made villages warmer, and the sudden chills that once humidified the land have stopped, officials in Odisha's Forest and Weather Departments said.

"Every emergency migration in any part of the world is rooted in hunger and suffering, and those left behind suffer the most," said Umi Daniel, migration expert and regional director of Aide et Action International, a non-resident of Switzerland -Member -Profit, which contributes to the improvement of education and skills.

"The families left behind in villages like Kharkhara are more vulnerable, they have poor access to food and their relatives leave little money with them," said Daniel, who has tracked the migration from West Odisha to the brick kilns ,

"The older people who die here in these villages (often) because there is no one to look after them," he said.

Hard Decisions

Kumar Gwal, 40, one of those who stayed in Kharkhara, said the decision to stay was not easy.

On his two-acre farm, under the beating afternoon sun, he said that until three years ago, the country supplied enough rice for its family of six during most of the year.

Kumar Gwal poses for a photo on his arid farmland in the drought-stricken village of Kharkhara in the eastern state of Odisha, India, February 28, 2018. Thomson Reuters Foundation / Roli Srivastava

He took the odd job or a bit of a daily wage Working for a little money, he said, "but always rested, because there was food at home."

But in the last three years, when the harvest failed, Gwal had to rely almost exclusively on daily work to survive. He makes 100-150 rupees ($ 1.50- $ 2.30) a day and is worried about starving his family.

"The agents tell me if I go into a brick oven, I will make 100,000 Indian rupees ($ 1,500) in cash," he said – enough, he thinks, to buy a motorcycle and build a concrete house in the village ,

About 20 km from Kharkhara is the town of Kantabanji, where employees are offered a cash credit based on the number of working members in their families who can come to work in the brick kiln.

Such bondage in brick kilns has continued since 1987 for lack of other job opportunities, said Bishnu Sharma, an attorney in Kantabanji who helps migrant workers. "But it's growing every year," he added.

Priyadarshani Mridha, who works for the local government office overseeing development efforts in villages including Kharkhara, said there was little demand for village projects to create jobs as most people emigrated.


Gwal said he had been tempted to leave the country last year after his little piece of farm land was completely dried up.

"But I thought I would spoil my children's future if I go when they go to school, and there is government funding for their education," he said.

"I also thought it might rain this year."

Unlike Gwal, most of the villagers who stay in Charkhara remain because they are too old to work in the brick kilns.

Dozens of frail elderly sit hunched in front of their huts, staring out of empty rows of locked doors.

Dharua says she does not miss her neighbors and her family as much as the fresh produce from her farmland, where she once grew various kinds of lentils, tomatoes and eggplants.

Every year she picks fresh tomatoes to prepare her family a traditional fish curry with rice for Pousha Poornima.

This year she bought tomatoes from the market and sold a chicken she owned to buy fish. With a loan she could also fill rice dumplings with coconut.

"This is a big celebration and I wanted to do all the traditional dishes, so I borrowed money," she said.

Reporting by Roli Srivastava @Rolionaroll; Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Thomson Reuters non-profit organization, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, human trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org

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