- The Washington Times - Friday, July 11, 2003

RATANPUR, India — Hakuben Kishorbhai sloshes out of the mud, her head balancing two steel pots of water collected from a leaking pipeline.

The water is murky and yellow, but it’s all that is available to Mrs. Kishorbhai’s family in western India’s parched Gujarat state, which is in the fourth year of a severe drought.

Just a week earlier, the water sickened the 31-year-old mother, and her children fell ill two or three times in the weeks before that. But the family has to keep using it, adding potash trying to leach out the pollutants.

Still, the leaking pipeline makes residents of Mrs. Kishorbhai’s village, Ratanpur, better off than the neighboring village of Kothariya.

There, women must fetch water from five water holes that the village of 4,000 people share with cattle.

Drought is a problem every summer, but this year is expected to be even drier than usual because rains were sparse during last year’s monsoon season.

Villagers have no hope the government will ease their plight. With nearby cities struggling for water, “who would listen to villagers like us,” asked Laxmiben Ranubhai, who recently migrated to a cattle camp on the outskirts of Kothariya.

Kothariya and Ratanpur are among the dozen or so villages near Surendranagar, a city of 300,000 people fed by water from 29 wells in the surrounding villages.

This year’s drought, which has affected more than a third of Gujarat’s 18,554 villages, has pushed down the water tables tapped by the wells, leading authorities to ration water to the city.

“We provide water to Surendranagar once in five days,” said D.J. Dhariya, the area’s top government administrator.

Storekeepers in the city closed up shop recently to protest water shortages and residents are demanding the government provide a new water source. There is a canal 20 miles away that carries water from a big dam in central India, but there is no pipeline to Surendranagar.

In previous years, the government used to send water in by tanker trucks at times of crisis, but that has also stopped.

When a humanitarian group recently arranged for a tanker to visit one of the villages, women and children lined up for a half mile waiting for water.

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