Marathwada's water crisis continues to take a heavy toll on the region, especially on farmers and the ailing. Drought and debt have driven at least 65 farmers to suicide in the last three weeks alone taking the total number of farmer suicides in just four months of 2016 to a monstrous 338.
In addition to promising jobs under the rural employment guarantee scheme, the Maharashtra government has urged doctors working in government and private medical facilities to extend medical assistance to farmers in distress. This is a time when hospitals, both public and private, are struggling to tend to patients they already have.
Water tankers have become the lifeline for rural and urban areas in the region, and even hospitals are dependent on them. In Latur, the government medical college orders about 20 tankers carrying about 6,000 litres of water. The next-door women's hospital run by the government orders too. Each of 46 primary health centres demand seek out 42 tankers everyday. All healthcare institutions ‒ big and small, public and private ‒ are running on these daily rations of water.
"The tankers are being funded by the district collector," said Dr Hemant Borse, assistant director with the Directorate of Health Services, Maharashtra. "We have also applied to the Director of health services to use the personal ledger fund which is collected in each of these units."
Where there are no government tankers, private citizens are helping hospitals out. "We are somehow managing with tanker water arranged by communities around the hospitals here," said Dr Vinayak Gadekar, a health activist with the NGO Manavlok in Beed.
Government hospitals have also been forced to restrict surgeries, Borse said, taking on only emergency cases and postponing routine. Latur's private hospitals are also restricting surgeries. "We do not allow more than one relative of the patient who is admitted to stay in the hospital. We are only taking emergency surgeries, and not the planned ones," said Dr VR Shendgar, a anorectal surgeon who runs a hospital in the city. "We are conservatively treating the patients for now. Our daily footfall is down by 75%"
How did Marathwada get here? The region is no stranger to water scarcity. The Marathwada plains are in the rain shadow of the Western Ghats and its average annual rainfall is about 700 millimeters. And even these rains have been failing in recent years.
In addition, Marathwada's rampant exploitation of groundwater has left many aquifers completely dry. According to an analysis last year by the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, there are 246 critical watersheds that have been overexploited in Aurangabad, Latur, Jalna and Osmanabad affecting 541 entire villages.
Another way of observing how parched Marathwada is through these satellite images of three reservoirs taken on April 3 this year and compared to images taken from April 1, 2015. The comparison created by Mapbox from images captured by NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite show how much the Nath Sagar, Ujjani reservoir and Majalgaon reservoir, which supply water to Aurangabad, Jalna, Beed, Ahmednagar and Parbhani, have shrunk.