In the summer of 2016, over 330 million people--a quarter of the country’s population—were declared drought-affected by the Indian government. Among the worst-hit regions was Marathwada, spread across 65,000 sq km in Maharashtra.
In 2015, the monsoon failed for the third time in a row, with the region recording an average deficit rainfall of 51%. Some parts received as little as 35% of what is considered normal rainfall, squeezing the predominantly agrarian region dry. As yields suffered and debt accumulated, many farmers were pushed to the brink and beyond. Over 1,100 farmer suicides were reported from the region in 2015 and 216 more ended their lives in the first 71 days of 2016.
In the cities of Latur and Parbhani, authorities imposed Section 144, mainly to prevent scuffles around water tankers. Five trains had been deployed to carry drinking water to Latur, the second largest city in the region, from a source 300 km away.
Photographer Harsha Vadlamani’s work focuses on the environment, climate change, farmer suicides, migration and health across India
A blackbuck (Indian antelope) sprints across the road near Belewadi Phata in Beed, Maharashtra. With watering holes in the forests drying up, farmers say wild animals are increasingly straying into their farms. April 30, 2016.
A man carries a water drum to the tanker in Latur city, Maharashtra. March 27, 2016.
Dead trees dot the hills near Dharur in Beed, Maharashtra. March 23, 2016.
A farmer drinks from his water bottle in Gangawadi, Beed, Maharashtra. April 28, 2016.
A family gets a borewell dug at the height of the water crisis at Nandgaon Ves in Latur, Maharashtra. March 27, 2016.
A four-member band plays at a wedding in Manjrath in Beed, Maharashtra. “If not for the drought, the wedding would have been a much more lavish affair,” said a relative attending the wedding. May 01, 2016.
Jaldoot Express, a train that brings water from 300 km away, is emptied at the railway station in Latur city, Maharashtra. May 03, 2016.
Women draw water from a well in Karigaon, Beed, Maharshtra. The well, which dried up long ago, is replenished once a day with water from tankers. March 25, 2016
A woman fills her pot from a small puddle on the bed of a well in Atola, Latur, Maharashtra. The previous day, Kevalbai Kamble, 45, stood in line at the village’s community tap for two hours and collapsed before she could collect her two pots of water. She was declared ‘brought dead’ at the Government Hospital in Latur. May 04, 2016.
Women carrying firewood walk back home after a day’s work in the fields near Dongargaon in Latur, Maharashtra. March 27, 2016.
Farmers repair an illegal well on the bed of the Godavari, the second longest river in India, at Gangawadi in Beed, Maharashtra. April 28, 2016.
Migrant workers, returning from a sugar mill in neighbouring Karnataka, transfer to smaller vehicles at Dharur in Beed, Maharahstra, where they also buy gifts and essentials to take home. March 23, 2016.
A cattle fodder camp at Siddewadi in Beed, Maharashtra. The state government had opened 327 such camps in the three heavily-affected districts of Beed, Latur and Osmanabad to provide fodder and water to over 300,000 cattle. March 21, 2016.
Farmers collect chopped sugarcane fodder from the government-run fodder camp in Siddewadi, Beed, Maharashtra. The water-intensive sugarcane is a crop ill-suited to the rain shadow region of Marathwada, but government policies over the years have led to the establishment of 61 sugar mills under private and cooperative ownership and farmers in the vicinity are encouraged to sow sugarcane. March 21, 2016.
Deubai Disle, 60, winnows the family’s harvest of bajra (pearl millet) at Dislewadi in Beed, Maharashtra. The yield from the 12-acre farm was only 1,000 kg as against a normal yield of 5,000 kg, she said. March 22, 2016.
Baliram Jadhav, 40, waits on the operating table ahead of a surgery to remove kidney stones at a private hospital in Latur city, Maharashtra. Jadhav, a farmer, says his well dried up two years ago and drinking from a borewell has caused the stones. He delayed the surgery for as long as he could, but had to borrow money for treatment from relatives and friends. May 03, 2016.
A drought-hit migrant family from Nanded spends a summer evening at a playground outside their temporary camp in the Ghatkopar neighbourhood of Mumbai, Maharashtra. May 25, 2016.
A family leaves their camp in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, just in time to prepare their farm in Nanded for the monsoon. May 25, 2016.
Encouraged by the forecast of a favourable monsoon, Arjun Kshirsagar, 70, ploughs his two acres in Saknewadi, Osmanabad, Maharashtra, in preparation for the Kharif (monsoon) crop. May 17, 2016.