U.S. Water News Online
NEW DELHI, India -- Expanding populations and poor use of
water are turning more than 40 percent of Asia into desert and
causing drought, but it can be halted through better use of science,
Semiarid regions of Asia and Africa are home to some 800 million
people, nearly one-half of them so poor they don't get enough food to
eat, said William Dar, director-general of the International Crops
Research Institute for the Semiarid Tropics, or ICRISAT.
``The desertification of Asia is particularly pronounced in China
and India ... and we see this happening now in Rajasthan and
Gujarat,'' Dar told a news conference in New Delhi.
The current drought in Rajasthan and Gujarat has affected more
than 50 million people and killed thousands of cows, goats, and
buffaloes. However, no human deaths have been reported so far.
Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to nearby towns
where government water tankers and fodder trains have been
distributing emergency supplies.
Thirty million others in nine other states are facing water
shortages, the Indian government said in a published status report.
The institute, Dar said, has signed up with India's government to
use satellite technology to identity where ponds should be dug and to
identify land that is being degraded and turning into a desert.
The ICRISAT is funded by dozens of countries and works with local
governments to produce disease and drought-resistant sorghum, millet,
chickpea, pigeonpea and peanuts, which most of the people in the
region depend upon.
Dar said villagers in India must be encouraged to adopt
centuries-old practices of storing rainwater. ``Places that have done
so don't have any water shortage or drought,'' he said.
The institute is also collaborating with Indian scientific
institutions to make cattle fodder, such as sorghum stalks, more
digestible. ``After all, livestock is the walking bank of farmers,''
Studies conducted by the institute have shown that even a one
percent improvement in the digestibility of fodder can save the
country $60 million, Dar said.
Scientists have said that successive state governments, especially
in Rajasthan and Gujarat, did not heed warnings of the impending
drought. They said simple solutions, such as check dams over rivers
and ponds to trap rain water, were being ignored in favor of
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