HotSpots H2O: Violence Flares in India Amid Record Heat and Delayed Monsoon Rains

A young woman pauses in front of the well where she fetches water for her family. She and her sisters walk several miles each day carrying water to their home in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, India. India is snared in “the worst water crisis” in history, according to experts. Photo & copy; J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

India’s monsoon, essential for the country’s water supply, arrived a week late this year, testing the patience of a country where extreme weather is fraying the social fabric.  

Delayed rains are accompanied by scorching heat, with temperatures topping 48 °C (118 °F) in the capital Delhi–a record high for June–and 50.8 °C (123 °F) in Churu, Rajasthan. The tardy monsoon, further disrupted by Cyclone Vayu, which skirted the country’s western coast this weekend, has led to conflicts over water supply across the country.

A clash broke out in the southern city of Chennai last week when a man tried to run an electric water pump near his home. Neighbors protested, and the situation culminated in a neighbor stabbing the man’s wife.

Near the city of Thanjavur, a man was beaten to death after he complained that his neighbors were hoarding large quantities of the village’s water. The man was hit with logs and sharp objects, and ultimately died from the injuries.

Drought is widespread in the neighboring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra, where tensions are also high. The region is home to 8 million farmers, all vying for an increasingly limited water supply, some of which is shared between the two states. As a result, water-related conflicts are unfolding at both government and local levels.

Similar unrest has swept across Madhya Pradesh, in central India. A water fight in the town of Panna left eight injured, and a tanker driver was beaten in Khajrana at the beginning of June. In response to these and other attacks, state officials ordered police to guard water sources.

“We will keep a watch in every district to check untoward incidents during water supply. We are developing a network to collect information,” legislator Bala Bachchan told local media. Bachchan said that police will also be escorting water tankers through “sensitive places.”

The country-wide clashes are reminiscent of conflicts last year, when three people were killed and dozens injured over water battles in New Delhi and beyond.

Officials and residents hope that the much-anticipated monsoon rains will bring relief to the thirsty nation. T N Hariharan, managing director of the Chennai Metro Water Supply and Sewerage Board, said that a healthy monsoon season should replenish the regional water supply. The monsoon supplies approximately 70 percent of India’s annual rainfall.

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