A country of over a billion people is on its way to becoming dry land. Millions living in Chennai and Bengaluru know this well and Delhi is on its way.
Sadly, what the recent water crisis in India’s mega cities has shown, is just the trailer. It’s time to critically explore what brought us here and what we can do to resolve this deepening disaster.
Since Independence, India has blindly followed the footsteps of the Western world. We have adopted cut-copy-paste models, ignoring how to innovate and implement progress in the Indian context.
In the twentieth century, the western world primarily built its economy on the exploitation of natural resources, a template that India adopted without examining its impact on the country and its burgeoning population.
Now that the West is moving towards more sustainable living and infrastructure development, India is too far behind and has too much to lose by continuing with this short-sighted approach.
Due to our approach to building and planning cities without regard for population growth, natural resources and quality building standards, we have overpopulated crumbling metropolises without a solid foundation.
There are no proper drainage or sewage systems to accommodate the rapid construction that is happening all around the country. Most of the water leaving buildings and houses is drained into rivers not only contaminating them, but also creating a system which is “use and throw”. This unsustainable approach to infrastructure development doesn’t take into account how much water we have, how much we need, and where it’s going to end up.
Bengaluru has already run out of water because of overpopulation and lack of foresight in resource planning. The lakes around the city are contaminated in the absence of proper sewage treatment systems, which is common throughout the country.
If the water was treated, it could be further used in maintaining water levels underground or reintegrated into rivers without contaminating them.
Along with sustainable urban planning, we need to lower our dependence on the monsoons. If India wants to fulfill its dream of becoming a global powerhouse, it must successfully solve its water problems. It is a short-sighted approach to “wait and watch” for monsoons to end the drought.
With changing climate and less rainwater predictability, we need to incorporate an extensive rainwater harvesting system where all buildings and households are equipped to gather and store rain.
How many seasons do we have to watch as Mumbai is flooded during monsoon and is unable to successfully harness the excess water, before we decide to take action? Collection and storage also needs to apply to flooding rivers so that we maximise water availability throughout the whole year.
However, even these two measures are not enough for us to foster the growing demands and ambitions of India. We are on our way to becoming the fourth-largest economy in the world, where a huge percentage of our economy is still dependent on agriculture, which in turn is heavily dependent on water.
The industries that India is focused on to achieve its growth targets, such as tourism and textiles, are heavily water- dependent.
Failure to educate the country’s population on water conservation is an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. Ground-level education and awareness building among farmers and the rural population is crucial.
We should focus more on crops that require less water for crop yield and incorporate the use of technologies that minimise the use of water. In this way, the government should be investing in grass-roots community education and incentivising the use of new technologies among our farming population.
Most leaders of India are now realising the grave crisis we are in. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has declared a special ministry, Jal Shakti, and chose to address this issue in his first speech after his re-election on Mann ki Baat.
Water is fast becoming a commodity in India, and our leaders are facing the reality of millions of desperate people lining the streets with empty water containers each day, waiting for trucks to deliver the most basic of human needs.
These desperate times are igniting anger within communities and discontent with our leaders. Our politicians at all levels have failed to deliver a proper, systematic and long-term solution to this worsening emergency. For starters, water and policies on climate change should become two election issues.
But the government is not the only one to be held accountable. We, as people, have ignored and moved away from taking individual responsibility. People’s behaviour and an ignorant mindset is one of the reasons why we have arrived at this point.
We are so blindly focused on making money and satisfying our superficial needs that we haven’t considered the impact of our actions on our natural environment. As long as there’s water running from the tap, we don’t care where it’s coming from or where it’s going to.
Among the solutions for providing water security, we need to invest heavily in desalination plants and adopt the technologies of the future as Singapore, Israel and Spain have done.
India has a huge coastline and massive investment in desalination plants would provide the water we could store. Why should we be lining the streets with empty buckets in hand when the technology lies at our fingertips?
Democracy promises that when people elect a government, it will provide the population with life’s essential basics, but unfortunately, in India, people think their responsibility as a citizen stops as soon as they cast their vote.