Every city is getting thirstier by the day. The gap between demand and supply is now ridiculously large. The real crisis, however, is not about scarcity per se, but about inequality in sharing. While a gigantic majority does not have connections at home, a handful suck up more than its share.
With the bloated cities desperately seeking water from further and further away, the village folks are being left high and dry. Quite literally.
But hey! Lets do a reality check here. Surely no one can do without his or her share of water! If the government is not being able to supply enough, where are the householders, industrialists, farmers, getting their quota from? The answer is groundwater. Out of the 200 km of groundwater drawn globally every year, India extracts more than 66 per cent!
Of course, we are paying a price for being among the largest exploiters. More than two-thirds of our country today can be divided into two zones: groundwater-scarce and acutely groundwater-scarce. But what is more shocking is that we have very little idea about who is using all this water and exactly how much.
Government says householders use just about five per cent of the total groundwater extracted. But the reality is, at least 76 per cent of rural households and more than 21 per cent of urban families are completely dependant on groundwater. And around 80 to 90 per cent of drinking water also comes from the same source.
Industry is the fastest growing area in our economy and also the largest user. But the government records barely reflect that. However, there is no dearth of actual evidence. A Coca Cola plant set up in Palakkad, the rice bowl of Kerala, sucked up lakhs of litres of groundwater daily for use. Result? Not only have water levels depleted dramatically, toxic chemical wastes have almost destroyed the source.
Rivers and lakes, too, are drowned in waste.The cities, particularly, guzzle water and in return give the water bodies their excreta. Rivers can cleanse themselves. But with huge volumes of fresh water being sucked out and replaced by effluents, they are being choked to death.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
We were once a water-literate society. Water was then managed locally. People decided how it would be shared and distributed, and penalized the over-users. Everyone had equal access and we had a stable economy. It is time to remodel the current centralized management system.
We need to get familiar with water. We need to know where it comes from and we need to nurture the health and well being of our sources. In other words, we need to be competent, conscientious and committed water citizens ourselves. That is the first step towards a water-secure future.