Yesterday, I joined my colleagues from WSPA India in Beed and visited some of the villages and cattle camps in the drought area. The lands are parched and this normally green centre of sugarcane production looks more like a scrub desert.
One theory of how Beed came to get its name is as a variation on an early name for the area: ‘Bir’ which is Arabic for ‘well’. I saw several wells today, all of which had run dry. Fields and riverbeds were parched and we frequently saw goats walking across scorched fields, pausing occasionally to nibble at the hardiest weeds that remain.
WSPA’s Hansen Thambi Prem at one of the many dried up wells in the area
A goat forages in virtually barren fields
That afternoon, with the scorching sun above us, we went to one of 400 cattle camps set up across Maharastra State. There, I met Gyaneshwar, a 12 year old boy and his water buffaloes, two ten year old sisters. They’ve been living in the camp for three months as the drought made it impossible to keep the buffalo hydrated in their village. As their name suggests, water buffalo like to spend a lot of time in or around water and don’t do well in arid, drought like conditions.
Gyaneshwar and his buffaloes taking shelter at a cattle camp near Beed
Gyaneshwar explained that he is living alone, alongside his animals while his parents watch over their home two kilometres away and see to the needs of the rest of the family and their goats. They come to see him every day and bring him food. But just the thought of spending days and nights away from home for months at a time at such a young age really personalised this disaster for me.The Maharashtra drought is affecting 400,000 animals. The numbers are difficult to fully imagine. Meeting Gyaneshwar and other people who depend on these animals brought home the true scale and impact disasters have on entire communities.
Shy at first, Gyaneshwar beamed when he talked about his buffaloes. They’re part of the family and so important, that they live apart while he tends to them during the worst drought in 40 years.
Like twelve-year old boys everywhere, Gyaneshwar likes to have fun and after we spoke he joined dozens of other boys living alongside their animals in the camp – some with family members, others alone like him. They ran among the cattle and buffalo sheltering under shade nets enjoying the moment and looking forward to the monsoon rains due in June that will let them all go home again.
WSPA is here to help, providing nutritional supplements and shade nets to see through the animals and their human companions through the worst of the drought. I'll have another post up soon from Beed.