For Chandubai Jhadav, a Lambada woman in Aland taluk of Karnataka's Kalaburgi district, a six-kilometre walk is not for her daily exercise. Under a searing sun, at close to 42 degrees Celsius, the six kilometres is part of a relay service she runs with her daughter-in-law, Sheetal Jhadav, to carry 10 pots of water to her house from a well, located 1.5 kms away from her hamlet.

Chandubai’s quick justification for the requirement of 10 pots for her household best describes the crisis that has overtaken Aland Taluk, which shares the border with Sholapur in Maharashtra. “We are 12 people in the house,’’ she points out.

Chandubai’s mother in law, Chandrakala Bai, joined in to say that it is not only the government that is cursed for not providing water. “God has neglected us and there can be nothing more disgusting about life than that.’’

Latur's poor cousins?

Some North Karnataka districts are in as bad a situation as the contiguous areas in Telangana on one side and Maharashtra on the other. The focus of the media and, therefore, politicians, has been more on Maharashtra because of the Indian Premium League and the water train. But this part of Karnataka has been ignored as Latur’s poor cousin.

The Jhadav family belongs to a water-starved village that doesn't get water through tankers that the government has been sending out. In one such village, a government official was almost lynched recently because the tanker had not stopped.

Water scarcity is not new in this region. But the heat is becoming unbearable in the month of April itself, much before what is normally the worst of summer. It's causing both discomfort and apprehension. For Shivakumar, a farmer in Sedam taluk, it reminds him of the worst drought that Karnataka saw in 1971. He was a young boy then but remembers very well that “there was scarcity of food and people literally starved. This time, there is no scarcity of food but there is no water.’’

“All the sources of water like open wells, rivers and barrages have been so badly exploited that the ground water resources have also dried up this year,’’ said Shivakumar.

Rural and urban crisis

Even a decade or two ago, ground water was available at 60 to 80 feet. Today, borewell machines are unable to hit water even at lower than 700 feet. This isn't just a rural phenomenon alone. Kalaburagi city with nearly eight lakh residents is also experiencing severe water crisis with the main sources of water supply, the Bhosaga tank and the Bennethora and Bhima rivers drying up. Even in cities like Bidar and Raichur in the Hyderabad-Karnataka region, water scarcity has reached worrying proportions. Bagalkot and Vijayapura districts in the Mumbai-Karnataka districts are also facing the full impact of this near-heat wave.

A heat wave is described by meteorological experts as a phenomenon in which temperatures persist at five degrees Celsius above normal temperatures. In the current situation, temperatures have risen a couple of degrees but the thunder showers that normally begin during late March or early April have failed to arrive.This has resulted in temperatures lingering at between 40 degree Celsius and 43 degree Celsius, which Kalaburagi usually sees only in May-end and not in early April.

The impact of this is felt on livestock with the government not opening more than a handful of cattle shelter camps in the northern part of the state. “The dwindling livestock and cattle will also have its impact on future cultivation practices of the farmers and agrarian economy,’’ said Maruthi Manpade of the farmers' union Prantha Raitha Sangha that is affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Babies have it bad

But, the worst impact is on neo-natal mortality and the old people. Infants dying during summer is not new in these parts of the state because people, generally, lack the facilities to protect the new born from heat wave or near-heat wave conditions.

“Neo-natal or premature babies do not have the capacity to withstand high temperatures," said Dr BN Patil, a retired professor of the Kalaburagi Post-Partum Centre. "The malfunctioning of the hypothalamus results in intense imbalance in managing body temperatures. But, if normal babies are exposed to heat conditions, they will die of high fever and brain hemorrhage,’’

Dr Patil has other apprehensions too. “Most of the children who die belong to economically impoverished families in the villages. They die because of dehydration and high fever due to the heat wave like conditions. The unfortunate aspect is that most times, they go unrecorded,’’ he said.

Villages in Kalaburagi are hoping for the release of water from the Bhima river for drinking water purposes. But, will Maharashtra be in a position to release water from this river when the focus of the entire country is on providing drinking water to parts of its own state?