WAITING FOR WATER
THE REAL PICURE
Dry taps and pipelines. Handpumps that don’t pull up water any more. Tankers that just can’t carry enough for everyone. It’s the same story every summer in India’s cities, towns and villages. The shortage only gets worse. The bad news is that the crisis is here to stay. Do you know that civic bodies in Delhi and Mumbai will need to crank up supply by almost 50 per cent and Chennai by an astounding 75 per cent by 2011, if they want to take care of even the basic needs of their citizens? Do you also know that Delhi’s supply comes from the Tehri dam which is 450 kms away, and that Bangalore’s share, sourced from the Cauvery, travels 100 kms? A pretty grim picture, right? Or are you still not convinced? Here are some haunting visuals by Sayantan Bera which tell the story better than words. We rest our case.
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 twothirds of our country today can be divided into two zones: groundwaterscarce 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.
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 waterliterate society. Water was then managed locally. People decided how it would be shared and distributed, and penalized the overusers.
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.