Water crisis stare Jammuites

Sunny Dua

The recent spell of rains and snow in upper reaches of Jammu and Kashmir might have given fresh lease of life to glaciers and rivers but the fact remains that gap between demand and supply of water during peak summers in both divisions especially in Jammu is getting widened with each passing year. Though climate change is cited as main reason yet rising population – both floating and migratory besides worst gone habits are equally to be blamed that are surpassing available resources.
Supply of water on wheels, freshly dug tube wells and water supply schemes like one in Sitlee put together are failing to cater to ever growing demand of water in Jammu. On the onset of summers Public Health Engineering (PHE) engineers have started assessing their capacities and gearing up accordingly to meet challenges, yet their biggest concern remains judicious use of water which people otherwise are not used to. Use of potable water for gardening, car washing and constructions besides wastage on account of leakages pinch them.
Today, Cape Town, the coastal city of South Africa that’s second-most populous urban area after Johannesburg and Bangaluru in India are two biggest examples before us that have either gone dry or are on the verge. Past data reveals that during peak season Jammu city runs short of about 20 lakh million gallons of water each day. Tube wells dug by Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) and schemes of PHE put together fail to meet this challenge when demands rise all time high and finally water is supplied on wheels.
According to World Bank, climate change is going to create biggest ever water crisis triggering even migration, burdening exchequers and finally ending up with conflicts as well. If water crisis of Cape Town and Bangalore are not setting any example for us to mend our ways and force us to use water judiciously, then Jammu needs to set its alarm bells ringing before it’s too late.
Still worst is that after depleting river water and glaciers, we are now striking ground water by installing pumps for domestic as well as commercial purposes. This too is being done at a time when we have dried up wells and water bodies including reservoirs or ponds which once existed in hundreds of numbers in Jammu division. Instead of replenishing these water bodies we are now over-pumping ground water which is not easily renewable.
Underground aquifers, according to hydraulic engineers and geologists, do not fill up promptly as rocks especially spongy ones take centuries to charge to their full capacities. Instead, reservoirs get filled up far easily due to rains which in turn make water percolate to help groundwater rise to desired levels. This practice of sucking ground water in Jammu has also pushed the water table far below and that’s the reason those into digging tube wells for commercial purposes charge anything between Rupees 15 to 20 lakh.
Now that water resources are not going to increase in Jammu unless the project of lifting water from river Chenab sees light of the day we will have to change habits and start using water judiciously to fight climate change. Dried up ponds coupled with exhausted groundwater supplies and minimum available natural streams will finally push us to the brink of running short of water if not out of it. In any case, we in Jammu will have to forcibly change habits to meet the water needs and if it’s so why not beforehand.
Though Jammu is not seeing direct impact of climate changes yet our water resources are worsening. Rising water scarcity, dried up ponds, exhausting ground water and less rainfall should be a cause of worry for us. Today also several places like Rajouri and Poonch see women walking distances to fetch water in pots (Earthen pots have been replaced with plastic pots). If this is not a warning sign then let’s wait for the catastrophe to strike us.
Himalayan glaciers are fast retreating and the population that’s dependent upon them have started to feel the heat. Less snowfall due to climate change affects these glaciers. And in case of excessive rains, water treatment plants like Sitlee get filled up with silt and their discharge is reduced to almost half thereby affecting water supply to city and peripheries. Same is with Kashmir that in case of dry spell runs out of water. The water supply schemes when stay defunct crisis hit cities and towns in Valley as well.
Massive industrialisation is also another factor eating out on our share of potable water. Shift in weather cycle another alarming area and to add to these issues are unorganised colonies, floating population, increasing commercial activities, usage of water for swimming pools and car washes besides huge gardens and dairies located in city areas that have all increased the intake capacity of water. Contrarily, there’s not much change in the supply schemes. Other than adding a couple of score of tube wells nothing much has been done to increase water resources.
Our ponds have been converted into parks. This is time we realise the potential of our rivers and water bodies and instead of contaminating them work to preserve them. Just by blaming climate change we won’t get water. To augment water supply schemes people will have to stop depending upon Government and start conserving water or using it judiciously.
The situation in referral cities is that Capetonians have been restricted to 50 litres of water a day which is less than the water which we waste in taking bath, watering plants or washing car. The trend indicates that 2025 is going to be worst for everyone in terms of water supply and being wise citizens we must prepare ourselves well in advance before our taps run dry. Well, this is also notable that people in Cape Town are being made to depend on community taps and that too under the watchful eyes of cops.
The World Economic Forum too has ranked “water crises” as one of few top global threats and also announced that water demand will increase to 55 percent by mid-century because of growing cities. It’s very recently that California fought drought and our cities like Delhi are still facing similar crisis. Going by the needs on an average one person needs 2,000 to 5,000 litres of water per day and in the given situation we in Jammu will have to act swiftly before we reach “Day Zero”.
“Day Zero” is a term used by PHE authorities in South Africa wherein they cut off the normal water supply to seventy-five percent of the city’s homes and make people depend upon community taps. The wake-up call given in India by Bengaluru which is running out of water should be taken up seriously before potable water that’s supplied to our homes is stopped and we will have to trek miles to get water, if available.