Witnessing the recent violence and outbreak of many states over water in India, we can say that the concept of ‘water war’ once a theory, is now a belief. A few years back the idea might have seemed foreign to many of us Indians, but the present day reality is– this very basic element of life has taken away so many lives, so far. Where is this war going to end, what are the reasons behind the crisis and, what steps can be taken to salvage the situation? Let’s cast a glance over the present water scenario in India.
Rapid industrialisation of Indian cities and poor water management has made the situation gloomy for the urban poor. Hundreds of migrant workers leave their villages in a hope of better life in the cities; but much to their despair, they end up fighting for the very basic element of their lives. The situation shows the future India, in the context of the poor who, are now busy protesting and taking resort to violence, to get a trickle of their lives—indeed, this is a crisis.
These are the scorching summer months when, on one hand some people believe that it’s impossible to live without their ACs on; some people on the other hand, find themselves unable to buy potable water and, they end up knocking on the formers’ doors, begging for the very vital source. The inability of the government, to provide clean and safe drinking water to the poor, has reached a crisis point. Even the urban middle class is baffled with the increasing water cuts in the cities.
According to the World Bank estimates, 21 per cent of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. Contaminated drinking water and poor hygiene practices results in mass cases of diarrhoea. It’s found that unsafe water kills hundreds of thousands of people every year globally and, in India, more than 1,600 people die daily because of this reason.
Poor sanitation facilities in the slums have further added to the woe. Many of the poor have to defecate in the open and have no choice but to drink and bath in contaminated water. Human waste percolating in the same water that people are drinking is also one of the reasons for contamination of groundwater. Apart from it, groundwater also gets polluted with industrial effluents and agricultural run-off. High concentration of Arsenic and Fluoride are other chemical contaminants.
Not only the groundwater is contaminated; but, surface water sources are severely contaminated too. With municipalities dumping billions of tonnes of untreated sewages; in rivers, lakes and streams, the surface water sources are turning into sewers. It’s not only interrupting the vital water supplies to the urban middle class people but, also threatening the lives of the urban poor.
It’s quite incomprehensible that India, with over 300 sewage treatment plants, is facing such a problem. The prominent reason behind this could be the under-utilisation and the distance of the plants from the sewage drainage points. Besides, India’s drainage system has become obsolete, and it needs to be revamped more than ever before.
We are witnessing drought-like situation almost every year, with the Indian government reports, warning potential water crisis. It’s not that the amounts of rainfall have changed, but use of water has changed for sure. The four Indian states—Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan—are using up their groundwater resources indiscriminately in order to meet their agricultural needs in the case of deficit Monsoon.
According to leading environmentalists, climate change is likely to exacerbate the crisis, as vital monsoon rains become erratic in India. A July 2009 report by the Australian government warned that India was going to face a decline in the monsoon rains, on which a big part of Indian agriculture relies, because of the climate change. Besides, with the increasing population, the water demand in India is going to exceed supply by 40 per cent, by 2030. After witnessing present crisis, the future seems only dreary. One wonders how government is going to meet up the challenge!
It’s the high time Indian government took notice of the problem and, come up with some substantial measures to save the poor and, the economy. A considerable investment is needed, in the infrastructure and, management. No doubt, the massive amount of wastage of water is the outcome of poor water management. Government should make the people aware of techniques like rainwater harvesting and, it should also revamp the waste management system which has been proved decrepit by now. We wish this bloody war, for a trickle of water, to end real soon and, let the life prevail.