By Dr. R. Balasubramaniam
Last week on my early morning walk, I could not resist the temptation of walking up to a middle-aged woman washing the entrance to her house. She seemed to be oblivious to any concerns of water scarcity and was pouring large quantities of precious fresh water onto the concrete walkway leading to her house. She also seemed unconcerned by the overflowing bucket she had kept under the tap from which she was drawing the water.
I succumbed to the activist in me and I asked her if she could avoid wasting so much water. And bang came her reply… ‘Who was I to even come up to her so early in the morning and give her this unsolicited advice? Why was I not minding my own business? And finally, she chided me saying that it was her family which paid the water bills and it should be no concern of mine if she wasted the water or saved it’.
My mind could not stop comparing this to an earlier sight that I saw of large water tankers supplying water to households in another residential locality of the city a few weeks ago. I stopped to talk to a driver of the truck who mentioned to me that he was bringing the water from a tube well on H.D. Kote road and that he made at least 8-10 trips each day. His concern was that the borewell was running out of water with the advancing summer and this would affect his daily business.
Another friend who hardly notices the weather was now joyously proclaiming how happy he was sitting out on his balcony at 11 in the night a few days ago watching the skies open up and the rains come pouring down.
While what I mention seems to be an everyday occurrence for most of us, it is painful that very few understand the challenging circumstances in which we are all living. Our reservoirs are going dry, inter-State river disputes are on the rise, our forests are burning down or are chopped up by the timber mafia, the little water we have is wastefully used, and all the warning signs that nature is sending out is blissfully ignored. And our Governments are busy not thinking through long-term solutions but are satisfied with fighting for funds for drought relief and sinking more and more tubewells which seem to go deeper every year. In fact, one officer confided in me that drought relief is good to have every year for some of our bureaucrats and politicians. For, after all who keeps track of the tons of desilting that is done or the watershed projects that are undertaken or the millions of trees that are supposed to be planted year after year.
With fresh water sources being less than 2% of the water available on our planet, can something be done to ensure that we have enough of it to go around and sustain life too. And who should we hold responsible for mitigating the crisis that we have brought on ourselves. This problem which seems insurmountable is not so difficult to tackle if we take earnest steps right away. The time to solve the crisis is now and the people to solve them are each one of us. As a starter, we can all resolve not to use fresh water for cleaning our pavements and courtyards; have a bath from water in the bucket rather than take a shower; ensure all our taps are properly shut and are not dripping; use little or no water to clean our cars; to put up rain water harvesting structures in our homes; and to plant, protect and nurture at least 2 saplings around our house.
The Government also cannot be allowed to go unaccountable for what it is doing or not doing. We need to make sure that the Forest Department is held accountable not just for raising nurseries or planting trees but are measured by the 5-year survival rate of the trees that they plant. The bureaucrats and politicians need to come up with comprehensive policies that address multiple dimensions of the environment like increasing the green cover, protecting our water bodies, controlling pollution, managing waste, regulating sand mining, protecting our forests and controlling human-forest interactions. They need to address the challenge of balancing the use of water for human and domestic consumption, agriculture and irrigation, power generation and industrial use.
More importantly the Government needs to think out of the box and explore possibilities of putting up desalination plants, setting up of recycling units for water re-usage and running campaigns for changing human behaviours, especially of people living in urban areas.
Finally, we need to remember that this battle cannot be fought alone. No one individual or agency can do enough on their own. What we need is a concerted effort from an ecologically sensitive government, conscientious industries and a well-informed and participatory citizenry. Together, we can not only ensure we have enough water resources for ourselves but also for our future generations. Let us start acting now!
[Dr. R. Balasubramaniam is a development activist and Founder of Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org]