In an irony worthy a Greek tragedian, the first act in the drama of water crisis is going to be a global flooding. Global warming will result in a rise in sea levels as the glaciers and ice caps melt, thereby depleting the earth's crucial reservoir of clean, non-saline water
Frogs are being wedded to frogs in elaborate; ritually correct weddings in Assam in an effort to appease Varun, the rain god, because there has been no rain in Assam in the past few months and the ground water is drying up. Quillagua, a Chilean city that holds the distinction of being the driest place on this earth, is dying a parched death. Their lifeline, the river is dying. What the water companies have not taken away, far in excess of what they were supposed to take, the mining companies have polluted to unsustainable levels. In Chamoli, Uttarakhand, the smaller glaciers have disappeared and the largest one has retreated by many miles. United Nations Development reports are warning the world that 'Water Wars' are on the horizon in Africa. Australia is a decade into the worst drought it has witnessed in a century. And in the latest instalment of arguably the world's sexiest spy, James Bond, the villain is not hoarding gold or oil or even arms, the traditional choices of villains the world over, but water. And that, I suppose really tells the story as it is despite all the deniers of climate change.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the new world, a drier world. Today water is fast becoming a resource that is all set to rival oil for value. 71 per cent of earth's surface is covered with water. But of that, only 3 per cent is non saline. And that 3 per cent is distributed across the forms; glaciers, rivers, lakes and ground water. Not only is the human body composed primarily of water but water is one of the fundamental premises for life on earth across life forms, birds, bees and all things that breathe need water. Unfortunately, so do all other things such as agriculture and industry. Simply put, life is water intensive.
Possibly the biggest problem we face is one that is entirely man made: pollution of water sources. Urban centres in India and in many other countries are faced with the mammoth task of not only providing access to clean drinking water but of dealing with the waste that is generated. In our country, despite the stringent environmental laws (all of which are obviously flouted), nearly all of our river systems are heavily polluted and many, like the Yamuna, are literally dying. From industrial effluents to human waste, we dump it all in the rivers and lakes. One of the greatest developmental challenges around the world today is access to clean water for consumption. Its lack equals a whole lot of diseases. A disproportionately large number of deaths can be related to water: lack of clean drinking water and sanitation is now the single largest cause of illness worldwide. It is estimated that by 2020, more people will have died due to water borne diseases and the lack of clean water than the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Currently the planet earth is home to nearly six and a half billion people. And going by current trends, the figure will soon reach eight billion. And each human being needs a basic minimum quantity of water just to ensure survival. An increase in population equals a surge in demand for food, both livestock and agriculture are water intensive.
The water crisis, which might well become the defining parameter for future generations, has been precipitated by a host of complex, interlocking problems. It is simplistic and convenient to file the water crisis under the larger heading of Global Wa r m i n g and leave it at that. But it is at once, more complicated than that and simpler than that. Water consumption patterns that are rooted more in lifestyle choices than pragmatism, a lack of appreciation for the complex interlinking of co-dependant ecosystems as well as a callous disregard for the consequences of polluting our water sources are all contributory factors. And every time we act with a narrowness of vision we exacerbate the problem. Overdrawing of water from underground sources causes depletion to an extent that disrupts the water cycle. As the rivers and lakes begin to shrink, there is less precipitation. And that means more droughts. And that means drawing more water out of the ground with the use of technology. It is a vicious cycle the end result of which is a water crisis because essentially we are disrupting the global eco system, of which the water cycle is an integral part.
In an irony worthy a Greek tragedian, the first act in the drama of water crisis is going to be a global flooding. Global warming will result in a rise in sea levels as the glaciers and ice caps melt, thereby depleting the earth's crucial reservoir of clean, non-saline water. Once the ice melts and becomes saline, not only is the earth going to get a lot hotter because the ice caps and the glaciers act as cooling units, the rivers and streams are going to run dry. And then the groundwater becomes more precious than oil because it is then a finite commodity since the water cycle will no longer replenish the earth's water table.
Already, the process has begun but right now, at this moment we can still do something about it. An environmental awareness coupled with individual contributions today can make all the difference tomorrow. The technology to make our water consumption more efficient need not be high end. Making sure that no taps in your house drip can conserve more water than you realise. As will air drying your clothes instead of using a dryer. On a larger scale be aware of water pollution and contamination. Be vigilant, that factory discharging its effluents into the river is sucking the water out of your future. But most of all realise that water is truly the elixir of life and pretty soon it will run out.
This article is taken from Sunday Times of India Hyderabad Edition dated 22.03.09 as a tribute to World Water Day.