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Once upon a time water used to be available for free in open wells, ponds……

Written By Krishna on Saturday, December 17, 2011 | 9:29 PM

Water is called the elixir of life on this Planet. But this resource is dwindling very fast because of variety of reasons which include accelerated pace of industrialisation causing immense damages to the Ecology and Environment leading to Climate Change etc., and overpopulation causing ever increasing load on water resources and agriculture. But a closer look at the water issue indicates in addition to the above causes mismanagement of this resource, rather lack of intention for its harvesting where it drops, conservation and control on its misuse etc.

Until recently „water water everywhere, not a drop to drink‟ remained only as a forecast for the coming times. Many never believed that this would ever happen. But the water crisis world over is to the fore and has come sooner than later. Many reasons are being assigned to the causes of water scarcity. The most important impact of non-availability of this resource is increasing food insecurity. A review of the happenings of the last century is expected to provide better understanding of the scarcity of water and food insecurity.


With the onset of the 20th century variety of changes the world over began - entry of communism, growing tension between powerful European Nations, entry of the US and USSR as Big Global Players. By mid-century the two world wars were fought and European Nations esp. the British were forced to withdraw from their never-sunsetting empire and allow new powers to share the booty. The US and the USSR got to play the major role with world bodies like the UN and its subordinate organisations. For the spread of capitalism and subjugating the newly freed countries various UN agencies, the World Bank, the IMF etc. were given physical shape to play greater role in shaping the future world based on over exploitation of Natural Resources and converting the then existing monarchies and empires to Corporate monarchies via a defective democracy route. All this led to the acceptance of "Development through Industrialisation mode‟ world over. Though there were basic differences between Capitalist and Communist systems of governance yet the development was accepted and retained by both as panaceea for all the ills of their people. The same became true of those who were known as non-aligned nations.However, by the turn of the last century even the Communism lost its grip in many countries and the world got definite tilt to capitalism. The field was left open for the only world Power, the US to make the Rules of the game unilaterally and play as per its wishes.

Development through Industrialisation resulted in setting up of high capital and high energy intensive industries all around. However, this gave desired output - mass production of consumer and non-consumer goods, availability of more jobs in industry, growth of towns and cities,good roads, population transfer from rural to newly created urban and industrial centers and improved quality of life for a small part of thepopulation. As expected this also created more destitutes, have-nots and downtroddens all around. Burning of fossil fuel and felling of trees coupled with dam building activities gave way to thermal and hydropower generation respectively. As an effect industrialisation created aside show of Environmental issues-damages to all aspects of life on this planet through massive air, water and noise pollution, increased consumerism causing enormous domestic and industrial waste generation. Various reports talked about in different fora indicate that water bankruptcy is going to be worse than the financial melt down now destabilising the global economy, and there will be no way of bailing the earth out of water scarcity.

Studies revealed that the world has not been as warm as it is now fora millennium or more. The three warmest years on record have all occurred since 1998; 19 of the warmest 20 since 1980. And Earth has probably never warmed as fast as in the past 30 years - a period when natural influences on global temperatures, such as solar cycles and volcanoes should have cooled us down. By mid - eighties Global Warming followed by Climate Change took the front seat and IPCC got created to suggest ways and means to counter the fear of these two evils. Like the other world bodies, IPCC also had the same objective –transfer of „Clean technologies‟ from developed to developing nations and money flow in the reverse direction.

This enriched the already rich ones-domestic as well as the foreign variety.Increased population, on the other hand, caused increase in the input of chemical dose in agriculture sector increasing, in turn, water pollution. By 1970 the US came up with National Environment Protection Act and the UN created a body under its arm known as United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This was followed by most of the countries making laws for protection of the Environment.But many including the protestors in the on-going worldwide Occupy movement have identified the 1% as the real source of environmental destruction which includes water also in the ultimate analysis, not the7 billion.

Water scenario in India

Many academic and field studies attempted to develop alternative routes of development to counter industrialisation as the only mode tobetter the life of the people. They simply got rebuffed by the money power of the money makers. India already had its Nature worshipping scriptures with low consumption of resources and less waste generation themes. Mahatma Gandhi added to the same. But none of this could influence the Indian political leaders sufficiently to follow the traditional route of living without massive industrialisation.Looking at the seriousness of the issue water was chosen as the first major resource for protection.

India had its first water Act in 1974 which was revised and improved with passage of time. But none of these showed a turn around. Water issue took global shape and rich people took the first step to make money out of the crisis through bottled water schemes, and energy and chemical intensive water treatment and recycling route. All the sources of water including municipal supplies for domestic uses were declared unsafe. To provide better impetus to this business the members of the elite group who were responsible for making drinking water available to the populace were shown in TV shows and print media with bottled water in front of them on the dais. Such pictures spoke more than millions of words -that water was a scare resource and it would be available to a limited few , that too for a payment. Water distribution in India has the pattern: Irrigation- 69 %, Industry- 23 %, Domestic/Municipal- 8 %.Govt. has failed to provide drinking water to about 20 % urban and about 50% rural population. Attitude of high profit making by moneymakers through increased consumerist culture leads to over-exploitation, pollution of water and depletion of other resources.Polluted water from industries, automobiles, chemical uses in agriculture and80 per cent of urban waste water discharged daily into the country‟s rivers leads to disability of large part of the population due to health reasons ending in loss of man/women-days in workplace,loss of life of more than 2.2 million people per year which is more than the number of people killed from all forms of violence, including wars, making most water bodies unfit for human use. All this culminating into an additional expenditure in Health care which is helping in wealth generation for very few.It is claimed that population has gone up also because of improved Health delivery system leading to increase in longevity and decrease in infant mortality rate. Whatever be the reason the population increase in last 60 years is reported to be 850 million whereas the figure for150 years from 1801 AD was 150 million only. Change in irrigation pattern needing 500 km water in 1900 AD to 2000 km in 2000 AD -an increase of 4 times in a hundred years. Quite natural that it led to exponential increase in food and water demand. On the other hand system administrators could not match their planning and execution steps with these demands of times.Conversion of traditional water sources - ponds, lakes etc in the urban areas for raising multi-storied buildings and concreting the open space in the cities are causing low rate of ground water recharging. Over exploitation of water leads to further lowering of ground water tables and salinisation in both urban and rural areas.

Silting of Natural and artificial lakes, dams and reservoirs are causing less water availability esp. in lean season.Water is considered a Govt responsibility but lack of will and planning,financial allocation and engineering intervention reveal

Lack of interest / awareness - towards conservation and retention of rain water where it falls, Govt. inaction and negative attitude

Govt at the Centre and most of the States/UTs failed to take wake calls provided by low rainfalls in recent years and initiate corrective steps/ action

Lack of vision for utilizing collective wisdom of all sections of the stakeholders and mobilizing them.It is wrongly assumed that more investments in water treatment,ignoring the existing traditional water sources and creation of dams etc or newer schemes with profit motives will solve the problem.Interlinking of rivers in India is wrongly proposed as a solution to water problem. In fact it is a proposal for privatisation of Water resources ending with money making for a few.

Suggestion for problem solving

In addition to the improvement in Surface Water Management like desilting and periodical maintenance of rivers, dams, ponds, lakes etc.and building new reservoirs and check dams extensive awareness programme like Communicating the water agenda in the right perspective to the people added by community driven or community owned / people‟s participation approach has better chance to succeed.Using more local wisdom (succeeds) than technology oriented programmes (invariably fails) has already been established as better result giving approach to solve the problem..Post-Gandhi Indian political leaders must be reminded of Nature worshipping scriptures & tradition of low consumption of resources,less waste generation themes and Mahatma Gandhi‟s teachings of low cost, more distributed employment generating village industries with better wealth distribution strategies.

“Catch where it (rain) falls” strategy is expected to increase in extensive Rain water harvesting in both rural and urban areas by extensive Ground Water Recharging. A simple calculation says tha thalf of Av. annual Rainfall of 1170 mm–captured on 1.12 ha of land in each of 5,87,226 villages, 6.57 million litres of rain water in each village will meet the cooking & drinking needs of 1200 people. So far no approach has been made to tap 135 million ha meter (mham) of available precipitation Watershed Management schemes must include Social Economic Development, Economic benefits of local population as well as people /life downstream, Crop Planning /Rotation, Livestock & Animal Husbandry, Weather Modification, Coastal water Management and aggressive but positive to all round Water Management


Water has been considered thus far a free and unlimited resource -this is not true anymore. The situation is tending towards „water water everywhere, not a drop to drink‟. Therefore, if policy makers,administrators and social activists do not honour the wake-up call provided by Nature in last few years and take immediate steps to rectify the situation it may lead to disastrous consequences for humanity and other lives on the planet. By the turn of the century academic curricula and Granny‟s fiction stories may include “once upon a time water used to be available for free in open wells, tanks, pond sand rivers flowing near each and every village and city with no private ownership, no control by the governments or their appointed private agents, no water bottling plants and no price to be paid for its use in whatever manner.


Dr.V.N.Sharma,the author is Environment & Water Management Consultant & Chairman, Jharkhand Vigyan Manch. He can be contacted at e-mail:vnsh44@gmail.com & Cell:+919431102680; Ph:+91651-2441524 andlocated at A-100, SAIL Satellite Township, Ranchi-834004, Jharkhand

Published in JANATA Vol.66 No.43, Nov. 27, 2011, pp11-13
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