Tikamgarh / AFP
As young boys plunge into a murky dam to escape the blistering afternoon sun, guards armed with guns stand vigil at one of the few remaining water bodies in a state hit hard by India’s crippling drought.
Desperate farmers from a neighbouring state regularly attempt to steal water from the Barighat dam, forcing authorities in central Madhya Pradesh to protect it with armed guards to ensure supplies.
India is officially in the grip of its worst water crisis in years, with the government saying that about 330 million people, or a quarter of the population, are suffering from drought after the last two monsoons failed.
“Water is more precious than gold in this area,” Purshotam Sirohi, who was hired by the local municipality to protect the stop-dam, located in Tikamgarh district, said.
“We are protecting the dam round the clock.” But the security measures cannot stop the drought from ravaging the dam in the parched Bundelkhand region, with officials saying it holds just one month of reserves. Four reservoirs in Madhya Pradesh have already dried up, leaving more than a million people with inadequate water and forcing authorities to truck in supplies.
Almost a hundred thousand residents in Tikamgarh get piped water for just two hours every fourth day, while municipal authorities have ordered new bore wells to be dug to meet demand.
But it may not be enough, with officials saying the groundwater level has receded more than 100 feet (30 metres) owing to less than half the average annual rainfall in the past few years.
“The situation is really critical, but we are trying to provide water to everyone,” Laxmi Giri Goswami, chairwoman of Tikamgarh municipality, said.
“We pray to rain gods for mercy,” she said. In the nearby village of Dargai Khurd, only one of 17 wells has water.
With temperatures hovering around 45 degrees Celsius, its 850 residents fear they may soon be left thirsty.
“If it dries up, we won’t have a drop of water to drink,” Santosh Kumar, a local villager said. Farmers across India rely on the monsoon—a four-month rainy season which starts in June—to cultivate their crops, as the country lacks a robust irrigation system.