You wake up at 4:00 am to go out and stand in a queue to fetch 2 buckets of water. These 2 buckets are for a family of 4 for an entire day. When you go out, you see people from all spheres of social circles have the same common queue. There’s no VIP pass and there’s no reserved class. And as the tanker comes and armed forces direct everyone to form a single queue, the rich and the elite are the first ones to break out and lash at the tanker. The thirst knows no boundaries, no class, and doesn’t make friends with sophistication. All goes for a toss. There’s a hue and cry and a few clever ones have fetched water and managed to run away. Welcome 2040! If we continue like we are today with no preventive steps, Welcome 2030!
You had never wondered you will ever wake up to reading this in your entire lifetime. But here you are sitting over your – mine and each one of ours careless and taking for guaranteed attitude. Nobody ever told us that water was no free lunch and we have a price to pay for using water. Going by the trends, it seems our future generations, our kids and grandkids (if they arrive) are the price we are going to pay for the rampant consumption of water. For the last few days, water crisis has been the flash news and the only thing that is disturbing and invigorating in nature. But how real is it? Can we survive this? How long before the hue and cry dawns upon us? Can we do anything about it?
This year Chennai runs out of groundwater in June. 10 million litres of water is being transported everyday to fulfil a small portion of needs for Chennai daily use. And it takes 13hours to fill these wagons of water. Construction of rainwater harvesting structures have already begun only if they are able to complete it before the north-east monsoon arrives in the month of October. God forbid, if the rain doesn’t arrive on time or there is an inadequate monsoon, Chennai will see the gravest water crisis in the history of time.
The situation is no hunky dory in other parts of the country. Around 250 districts have been marked as the water-stressed districts, which make for one fourth the landmass of the nation. Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka are other among facing severe drought like conditions. 21 Major Indian cities including Delhi and Bengaluru will run out of ground water by 2020. 75% of households do not have access to drinking water on premises. 600million people face medium to high water stress. Only because you have water to drink, cook, brush and bath and other daily needs does not mean there is no crisis for real. It has arrived. it is about to knock your and mine door as well.
And if you are wondering how did we arrive here, you are right in wondering. I am doing the same. There are so many social factors, lifestyle habits, consumption patterns and economic and infrastructure inadequacies that can be attributed to the crisis. But the prime is our mindset. The fact that we are not paying for water and we always had running taps in the cities and urban India made us value water less. And this sentiment with increasing urban population over the last 2 decades has just strengthened this sentiment. We produce and export the most water intensive crops and produce including rice, cotton, sugar and buffalo meat. Just so that I can picture this for you – it takes 3000 litres of water to produce 1kg of rice. Our cities had tradition of rainwater harvesting if you have read about Harappa and Indus civilisation. Many villages today too have baolis and harvesting structures left unattended and abandoned. And we never came to this point where we could start charging public for water.
All this is at a national level from an umbrella approach on how the crisis is trickling down the entire nation and the clock is ticking. But the steps need to be taken at the ground level at your home and my home; your office and my office, your society and my society. We need to start telling each other to keep the tap closed, not keep the water running while brushing the teeth, avoid taking a bath from showers. Do not wash vegetables in the running tap water rather take a bowl of water and wash the vegetables that need to be made in the same water and do not throw the water rather put it in plants or the garden. Ask the helpers at home to use less water for mopping, tell the security to use mug, bucket and a cloth to clean and wipe the cars. Avoid using running water from pipes to wash off the cars and bikes directly. Stop throwing water in front of your shops morning and evening to let the dust settle rather use dry means of keeping the place clean. Instead, you can keep artificial grass door mats that can be washed once a week. The same preventive measures can be taken at hospitals, malls, schools and workplaces.
And this can start from our homes. This can happen if we start sensitising each other about the situation. So, is water crisis for real? Yes. Is it approaching to haunt us as well? Yes. How long before the hell broke loose? May be 10, 15 or 20 years at the most but if we take preventive measures and use water judiciously, we can definitely delay the challenge that is coming our way. Can we do anything about it? Definitely, yes! We can be prudent, think of our families and future generations and think of larger good; We can definitely do much more about this challenge. So, let’s talk to each other, to the doctors we go to, to the teachers of our kids, to our colleagues and friends and be in charge of the situation. Let’s make this crisis a passé and resolve to overcome it. Today and now!
(The writer is an IIM Shillong Alumnus and Mentor of Change with Niti Aayog.)