This “vision” is one of the 30+ that we’ll publish here in the next months. Most of them will go into Life Plus 2 Meters, Volume 2 (expected publication: Dec 2017). We hope that you will comment on the message, suggest ways to sharpen the narrative, and tell us how the story affects your understanding of adapting to climate change.
Most importantly, we hope that you enjoy reading these stories and share them with your friends and family. —David Zetland (editor) and the authors
Krishna and his three siblings are enjoying the dimming sunlight playing in the courtyard of their dilapidated mud hut. They have skipped lunch and will hate to be called inside for dinner. Devki, mother of the four children, looks out of the window gazing through spider webs and decides against calling them inside. She smiles at her youngest daughter, Imly, who is playing in shade of the giant Babul tree. Devki’s smile quickly wanes, giving way to tears of pain and anguish. Her husband Balraam had committed suicide by hanging from that tree a few months ago. Ever since, Devki is managing herself and the children on her own. Several days in a week go by with a single meal and she has less to explain if the four children keep themselves busy in the courtyard.
Balraam owned a small farmland in Vidarbha village in Maharashtra, India. Vidarbha has suffered from water shortage for several decades. However, the situation has changed– only for the worse. The village is now among the several severely drought-affected villages across the state of Maharashtra. Balraam took a farm loan to buy seeds, fertilizers and used a small part of it to celebrate with his family the occasional few days he had some extra cash. A local weather guru Hirana had predicted a heavy monsoon and received a token of appreciation from the farmers for his promise of healthy produce. The farm was ploughed and seeds were sown. But instead of abundant rain, it barely rained at all. Balraam’s crops failed. Drenched in debt, Balraam could not bear the pain of not being able to provide for his family anymore. He followed other farmers from the neighboring villages in ending his life.
A postman, meanwhile, stops by the mud hut and hands over a letter to little Imly who quickly brings it over to her mother. Tears trickle down Devki’s face as she looks down at Imly holding the letter from her aunt Sujata – Devki’s sister. Sujata writes in the letter that she is coming to
visit them with her family and that they could stay for several days. Sujata lives far East in the state of Bihar boasting vast stretches of fertile land. Ganges – the holy Indian River and its tributaries flow through Bihar and keep the land wet.
Devki has always found happiness in Sujata’s prosperity, but for the first time she experiences a hint of jealousy. Devki writes back explaining Sujata that she is barely feeding her children and it will be impossible for her to honor the guests. Devki almost wants to ask her sister for help but stops short for the respect of her deceased husband. The children, dehydrated after playing for long return inside and sleep shortly after. Devki looks upon as another day goes by and eventually sobs herself to sleep.
Next morning, she is woken up by a knock on the door. It is Sujata and her children. Imly quickly brags to her aunt that she was the one to receive her letter from the postman. The sisters feel a little differently about the Indian Postal Service. Devki invites Sujata and children inside and offers water. Sujata looks at the brimming glass of water and starts crying. Confused, Devki asks the children to go outside and play, and holds Sujata in her arms.
Sujata informs Devki that there was a flood in Bihar from heavy rain resulting in increased discharge from the rivers. Her husband, Ranjan was swept away in the flood and their farm is inundated. The stagnant water is making people sick and several children have died of diarrhea. The only drinking water they had was floodwater and they were running out of the food rations she picked up before leaving the house. She had no option but to come to Devki to avoid the death trap. Sujata reminisces that Ranjan had once proposed to settle elsewhere during a previous “near-flood” situation but she had decided against it.
Sujata offers to work in Devki’s farm and raise their children together. Devki informs her that she sold the land to repay Balraam’s farm debt and now works in the local government office. Devki promises to talk to the babus for Sujata’s employment.
Next morning, Devki goes to work and sees a large gathering outside office. She hears people discussing adaptation strategies to deal with the simultaneous drought and flood in different parts of the country. She remembers how each year there are similar meetings but nothing ever gets done. Agitated, she returns home and along with Sujata starts making some dinner for the children. Later in the evening, the village panchayat announces that the central government has promised green light for the river-linking project. This, according to the government, will allow the surplus water in Ganges to flow through one of the rivers in Maharashtra. Devki recalls reading about this project when she was young. She, along with Sujata go to the local officer to understand how long it will take to complete the task. Rama, the officer, tired after a long day of work is not interested in taking any questions. After several minutes of trying to get away, he responds to them “Not in your lifetime, and may be in your children’s”. Sujata and Devki look at each other with welled eyes.
Nishita Sinha has a Master’s degree in Economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. Currently, she is a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. Her research interest lies in studying resource policy implications – primarily water resources. Currently, she is involved in a project developing a market solution to deal with water shortage during extensive drought periods in South Texas. She believes the role of “invisible hand” is critical to policy issues in natural resources and should be employed more often. She can be reached at email@example.com.