‘The World War III will be fought over the scarcity of water if things don’t change soon’ is a common refrain from several experts and writers. This seems no exaggeration going by people’s hardships in fetching a few pitchers of water. The scenario is frightening in India. One comes across children walking miles with bucket-full of water; women trekking kilometers with kids on one hand and empty pots on the other; people travelling on cycles and pulling carts with pots and pitchers bringing home drinking water. I n several places, as in Chennai these days, one gets to see hundreds of empty plastic pots in rows waiting expectantly for water tankers to arrive. Of late, violent incidents are breaking out over scarce water. Capping it all, in cities like Chennai, some offices have partially downed their shutters, and employees have been asked to work from home due to paucity of water.
Statistics on the water front is alarming. Twenty-one major cities are estimated to run out of groundwater by 2020 -- just a year away. As the population of India is going to overtake that of China in the next few years, the crisis is going to get worse. The situation on farm front is even more alarming. Crop failures have become a regular feature as water sources have dried up. In many places, peasants are leaving the land barren as irrigation facilities are a far cry. The main problem, according to experts, is that the country mostly relies on groundwater. Decades of digging borewell instead of opting for traditional water harvesting systems has meant India is suffering from severe ground water depletion.
Coming to the solutions, there is not one but many if the authorities have the will to act. The issue is not non-availability of water, but lack of a system to preserve it. A major share of rain water flows into rivers and subsequently into sea. There is lack of water bodies like lakes and reservoirs where it can be stored. In fact, thousands of water bodies across the country are filled up with waste and lying unused. Restoring them, along with construction of new ones, under schemes like MGNREGA should be a priority of all governments.
Apart from such measures at village level or at common places, governments should take steps to motivate and persuade people for rain water harvesting in households or institutional buildings. Rain harvesting is collecting water from where it falls. It may be from roof-tops or other areas. The water, which otherwise would have gone waste, is stored in huge tanks or diverted in such a way to recharge existing wells. Water saving methods will be incomplete without initiating the same in irrigation systems. Introduction of sprinklers can l ead to 40 percent decrease in water consumption.
Modi Government 2.0 has tweaked some of the organizational structures to form a Ministry of Jal Shakti. The government has made an ambitious announcement of providing tapped water to every household. But the big question is: Will the taps remain dry in the absence of stored water and end up like unused toilets due to lack of water? Hence, the solution to water woes has to start with saving water through various steps. But do we have the will to do it?
(Published on 24th June 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 26)