Thursday, March 22, 2007

Water scarcity: what you and I can do

Just imagine a day without water! Give a thought to it at least today -- the World Water Day.

The idea to devote a day in a calendar year to this most basic necessity for human existence grew out the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

Millions of people have just no access to water, clean or unclean. And those who have some access have no way of getting clean water. And on another level, water -- from small amounts right within our houses to large amounts from swollen rivers -- is wasted.

Yet, availability of water continues to be taken for granted by all of us at all levels from the governmental to individual. We have still not woken up to the fact that there is only a finite amount of water on Earth but our consumption is growing. The interesting point, however, is that on the whole there is enough water for all of us! What needs to be done is regulate the available water in such a way that there is minimum wastage and water is equitably distributed.

The river water disputes -- especially the Cauvery -- illustrate the gravity of the situation. Sadly, governments haven't mustered enough will power to treat it as a common development problem of all of us; instead it is looked up on as a political issue and emotions are whipped up needlessly over it.

Ideas like interlinking of rivers and rainwater harvesting haven't taken off at all. In Bangalore, no effort is made by authorities to make sure that new housing and commercial complexes have rainwater harvesting facilities on their premises.

What we can do?

Even at the microlevel we all can contribute in a small measure towards conserving water. Next time you wash your hands at the washbasin just see how much you open the tap. Most of us open the tap much more than what we need to. More water flows out than is needed.

We can notice that opening the tap more, and letting more water flow out on to the hands, doesn't always necessarily clean our hands faster. The same is the case while washing vessels and taking a shower. A lot of water is usually wasted. And, we don't realise that.

So, just consciously open the tap only to the extent that is actually necessary. Also, many people while brushing teeth, keep the tap water running throughout. Water just keeps running; water is simply wasted. There is no need to; we need to open the tap only when we rinse our mouth.

If we observe carefully there are a number of occasions when we waste water, quite without our knowledge. While we wait for governments to do their bit, we can make a small beginning by doing our bit. Not that this way you and I can remove the world's water scarcity at one stroke. But surely we make a small difference, and in an incremental manner it has an effect.

Some of the best practices aren't enforced or implemented, they are just practised, quietly, at an individual level.

Related links:
-- World Bank report on India's turbulent water future
-- Water debate: Viewpoints on BBC
-- BBC programme: Water scarcity, a looming crisis
-- World Water Day
-- Rainwater harvesting
-- The Tirupur example of Public-Private Partnership


  1. Hi Pradeep!

    I see we are on the same page, celebrating World Water Day on opposite sides of the Earth!

    Water disputes appear to be a very serious problem. Even where clean water becomes available, the rights to it are often controlled by third parties looking to make money, forcing the poor who need the water most back to the old waterholes and tainted supplies anyway. The next generation suffers, public health suffers, agriculture suffers. In the end, everyone is affected.

    The water crisis is very much a class problem. I have been lucky enough to live in areas where the tap water is clean and good and safe to drink. This is not the case in much of the world.

    Every drop of clean water that goes straight down the drain mixes with waste water and must be treated.

    Turn off the tap!

  2. Know what Pradeep, I remembered SSKZM in 1970, u were quite young then, when we moved in there, we would get water for just 1 hr in the mroning and 1 hr in the afternoon. it would not come to the first floor taps, so we used to carry it up the MI room, bucket after bucket. I dont think it ever improved, but it taught me to live with minimal water...proved very useful when living in Chennai & Bombay...later on.

  3. That is truly an interesting post. Sometimes it's easier to point the finger at Americans or the Developed nations and blame them for wasting the earth resources, which are finite. But we don't realize that we've become, without knowing it, more demanding humans that don't focus on what we need, but rather on what we want to climb the social ladders. So it take small actions to make a meaningful change. Whether it is to close the tap while we brush our teeth, or to turn off the lights when we don't need it, or not to throw the chips bag in the street after eating the chips...Individuals should start taking small actions so that our grandchildren can enjoy the planet as well.