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We were sipping summer drinks to quench our thirst at City Center. It was sheer joie de vivre but a message in WhatsApp shattered our mood in a jiffy. A child drinks surface water contaminated with human and animal faeces. At the same time, a few celebrities drink luxury packaged water priced at Rs 600 per litre. My heart goes out to the people of Tanzania where millions of people living on the border of Uganda have no access to safe water and basic sanitation. Women walk miles to fetch half a bucket of water from Lake Victoria. The old and the sick gather water from dirty swamps. Children die in diarrhoea due to unhygienic practices. Life is utter hell there.
We are grateful to God that North East India is blessed with enough rainwater. We should make all efforts to conserve this blessing. However, the Assamese people give little importance to this option since the Brahmaputra and its tributaries are flowing abundantly across the State. But the hilly States of India’s north-eastern region encounters a crisis of drinking water. This is despite the fact that they get rainfall throughout the year. My memories of conserving water were the drums of rainwater at our neighbourhood. Grandmother said they would go to the river to bathe and wash and even fetch some water for drinking in their time. I also noticed people in Shillong having a makeshift arrangement to collect rainwater for household needs.
The ongoing four-month monsoon rainfall usually helps to ease the rampant agricultural distress especially in the dry regions across Northern India. A good monsoon could provide the much-needed economic boost to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Concerned about the water crisis in rural India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitched for conservation of rainwater at ‘Mann ki Baat’. The Prime Minister wrote letters to 601 ‘Gram Pradhans’ of the Amroha (the most fertile district in UP, usually having enough rainfall) through the respective District Magistrates and Collectors requesting them to conserve rainwater during monsoon. The Prime Minister even constituted the Ministry of Jal Shakti at a NITI Aayog Council meeting recently.
India finally woke up after Chennai reeled under severe water crisis. This southern city receives deficient rains, and that also causes the ground water to recede. The reservoirs fail to provide respite as desilting is crucial for such water bodies. I saw Madurai women working early hours of the day lifting water from traditional hand-dug wells because water recedes from the well after sunrise. Despite Bangalore being the ‘City of lakes’, water disappeared due to rapid urbanisation. The apartments don’t get Cauvery water. The ground-water level is disappearing at an alarming rate. Now I realise why there is no love lost between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
What surprised me most is that half of the population in Guwahati does not receive sufficient water while the Brahmaputra remains overflooded. The GMC has failed to cater to the need from its age-old water supply treatment plants. The 24×7 JICA project has suffered for years under a cloud of doubt and mistrust.
It’s indeed a pity to watch children fetch water from leaked pipes by the street. Certainly “Jack and Jill went up the hill” hold true for us even in the 21st century. Women and children walk the extra mile to fetch drinking water. They are an iconic image of rural India.
My tenure at Jamnagar caused me anxiety over water storing. I drove to office with a water jar. The ground water in Gujarat is salty and not fit for any purpose. To quench the thirst of the people residing on the drought-prone coastal belt of Gujarat, the Reliance came up with the idea of setting up a desalination plant. Pune hoteliers try to deal with the problem in a rather unusual way by serving half glasses of water to guests.
In Northeast, the water supply schemes have limited coverage on account of the topographical feature. Meghalaya is reeling under acute shortage of water despite receiving the highest rainfall in the world. Nevertheless, the ‘Pine city’ falls in line with drinking water crisis.
Mizoram enjoys abundant monsoon rainfall. Rooftop Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) and spring water collection are the main sources of domestic water supply. With the help of Government, people living atop the mountains construct water tanks to harvest rainwater that suffice to meet the requirement round the year. After Meghalaya, now Manipur is planning to go the Mizoram way of mountain RWH. The number is enormous for Mizoram when 24,000 RWH tanks have been constructed with the assistance of Government while more than 1,200 private tanks have been constructed by individual families.
The water bodies in the plain areas have to be freed from massive encroachments for these are natural water reservoirs. But the hilly States of Northeast have no option but to rely on RWH from monsoon rain. Yet people living on the hills aren’t traditionally acquainted with this smart lifestyle. The villagers aren’t accepting the deviation from their century-old lifestyle. Piped water is no divine. They continue to depend on the stream water from the abounding hills.
After the massive public response to the ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ (cleanliness drive), the government is now going ahead with the ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan’ to stress on RWH for every household. Budget-2019 has promised the ‘Nal se Jal’ scheme to offer piped water to every household by 2024. The Centre has asked all urban local bodies to set up effective monitoring of RWH and revive water bodies. Also new guidelines will ensure that all building permissions will have RWH structures incorporated as per building bylaws. With RWH, the ‘Solar Power Harvesting System’ is possible in the residential areas too. The UN focuses on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water for all. We need to explore the ecosystem in the global water cycle despite the threat of climate changes that poses to achieve universal access to water and sanitation. The world must go united on such causes to mitigate disasters.
Saudi Arabia overcomes water scarcity by undertaking seawater desalination. Chennai has a huge seawater desalination plant thereby making saltwater drinkable now. Southern India should go for this system. Concretization in Mumbai helps to avoid silting and makes drains free from clogging. But at the same time, it restricts the natural percolation of water. This factor, on the other hand, contributes to urban flooding. The Himalayan Rivers play an important role in North India. These rivers carry plenty of waters to sea. Interlinking rivers might be a solution to India’s myriad water problems in the future. The Indira Gandhi Canal passing through the Thar Desert brought green revolution in Rajasthan transforming the barren deserts into fertile land.