Can there be a greater tragedy that water has to be transported on the train as people are literally drying for lack of water? The sad reality is that we are facing such a situation in our country today and the situation looks like getting worse as more and more areas are falling under drought. While media devotes time when some deaths occur or water riots take place, the human aspect of calamity hardly finds space in newspapers. The specter of drought has become a routine phenomenon for our country and beyond occasional headlines, does not evoke much response. The government makes policies and announces relief every year, but is that enough? Even more crucial question is whether we are even thinking in right perspective as regards extreme water scarcity that we are facing right now and which is only likely to exacerbate in times to come?
According to reports, some part of the country or the other has faced drought and extreme water scarcity every year over the last decade. But has any program or scheme been able to make any real dent in the problem of water scarcity? Hardly so. We have yet not been able to somehow come out of the habit of thinking of water scarcity as natural calamity. The reality is that the massive shortage of water that India faces is as much a policy failure as successive monsoon failures.
First of all, we have drained out groundwater with extreme impunity. We have more bore wells than any other country in the world. There is no control over private water drilling. Our farmers depend mostly on groundwater for irrigation. And while using groundwater, they are most wasteful. Our water use efficiency in agriculture is among lowest in the world.
Second and equally important, our ability to retain rainwater is too low. Concepts like watershed development and rainwater harvesting are mostly out of policymakers’ focus. Only recently, some actions have been taken to promote such activities and some states have started to force cities and town dwellers to make adequate provisions for rainwater harvesting. Thirdly, we have really unscientific crop patterns which are out of sync with the water availability. Surely sugarcane growing is not suitable in Marathwada.
The need is to promote such activities and measures which can be implemented by villages and towns without much technical input and thankfully such measures have been taken in many villages. Such experiments should be replicated and promoted with state funding across the nation.
Finally, we need massive reforestation to help soil absorb whatever precipitation it receives. It is extremely important because most precipitation in the country takes place over a span of just a quarter. If we could somehow retain that water, we would not have the crisis we face year after year.
But most important aspect of water planning is perhaps to look at our individual habits, right in our kitchens and bathrooms. How many of us can say that he or she really does not waste water? Our individual habits need to change to not just use less water, but also recycle as much as we can at our own end.
On a per capita basis, we don’t have much water to start with. The only hope for us is to preserve whatever we have got. Failure to do so has human, social and economic costs which may become unbearable in future if we don’t mend our ways in the present.