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   Prasoon S Majumdar
Prasoon S Majumdar
Editor, Economic Affairs - The Sunday Indian
Dean Academics (All India), The Indian Institute of Planning and Management

The Lifeline

Scarcity of water is heading to catastrophic proportions

Last week when the World Water Day passed off without the least fanfare, it showed that India attaches as much importance to it as it does to the death of its foot-soldiers. Maybe the fact that three-fourths of the earth, and 75% of our body matter, consists of water has been ingrained so much into our beliefs that we almost take water for granted.

Contrast this with the bare facts: more than 2.6 billion people across the world don’t have access to basic sanitation and the UNDP Human Development Report states that this figure might go up to four billion. Even if we are to keep aside the world and look at the precarious condition in our own country, it vindicates the fact that like many other natural resources we have withered away, water too would go the same way unless we learn how to conserve. This becomes pretty evident for most of the urban areas of the country with the advent of summer when the supply-demand disparity reaches its peak. A recent World Bank survey clubs Chennai and Delhi among the worst performers in terms of the availability of piped water per hour. That the fact is more about conservation and judicious utilisation of water is made more evident when the World Bank report of October 2005 stated that while developed countries have provisions for storage of nearly 5,000 cubic metres per capita and other developing countries like China, South Africa have made storage facility for at least 1,000 cubic metres per capita, India barely stores 30 days of rainfall. And that this persistent neglect is leading towards a catastrophe was clearly stated by the National Commission on Water way back in 1999 which stated that 15% of aquifers in India are in a precarious state, which in the next 25 years would go up to 60% and that by 2050 the total demand of water in India would far exceed the availability. Add to this the problem of siltation that most of the storage facilities in India face at a rate of 1.95 billion cubic metres of storage facility getting silted every year (UNDP report). But it doesn’t end here.

Our unscientific agricultural practices are much to be blamed for all these. Rice and wheat are water-guzzling crops and in the name of the Green Revolution and food security we have allowed the relentless exploitation of underground water, so much so that in the next 30 years or so places like Punjab and Haryana would become completely infertile. An UNDP report states that even if 50% of all the areas under rice production are to use more efficient methods of production, it would not just help in the irrigation of an additional six million hectares but also increase production by 50%. History is testimony to the fact that the scarcity of a critical resource has always manifested in wars as we have observed in the case of crude oil. The same has been happening in the case of water. It might just be a matter of time when guns are drawn for something that is considered to be as trivial as water. Be it Cauvery and Kabini in the South or the Ravi-Beas dispute in the North, the war is on. And this war has just extended to neighbouring countries like Nepal, China and Bangladesh. If river water disputes are added between several countries, the situation becomes more than horryfying. Remember, it is not the end, but just the beginning!!


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