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Water Woes

Another day, another watery tale of woe. Day after day, the media is filled with dismal stories about the misery resulting from an abject lack of water in parts of our country. The plight of the people worst affected is heinous. With the worst of summer yet to come, the harsh reality of our situation is that, this tale of woe has no end in sight yet.

Due in major parts to our own greed and lack of forethought, the drought that has gripped the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana as well as the water scarcity that is being felt in other parts of India, is more a man-made tale of woe than nature’s perfidy.

Our very own special brand of “it is every man for himself” type of thinking gone haywire that has contributed to our sorry state. So, it is time to think of the greater good. Like the students of this school in Pune – they are collecting the left-over water from their bottles at the school, so that it may be used for watering the school plants or for keeping the wash rooms clean.

“The school has around 1670 students, and if each child has 1/4th of water left in his bottle, it would amount to nearly 1 lakh litres of water been wasted everyday, which is a huge loss. Taking this thought into account, we had a discussion with the students and their suggestions were taken” – Ashwini Kulkarni, school Director

Every drop counts and small changes like this all add up to make a big difference. For once, those with star power are coming to the aid of the common man. Actor Nana Patekar started an amazing trend by adopting whole villages to support and offered his aid; other actors like Akshay Kumar and Aamir Khan are following suit. A slow trickle of support, but if it grows into a deluge, that will be the start of a wonderful situation!

But… let’s not get ahead of ourselves; let’s look at the cause of this abysmal situation and see what brought us here in the first place. According to news reports, the severity of the drought in Maharashtra is one of its own making – the usual ingredients of greedy politicians and unsavoury methods are to be blamed for this. To that, we must add short-sightedness to the list of crimes. According to Huffington Post, apathy for the poor is the number one cause of the grand scale of this misery.

While the frequency of extreme weather events is rising because of climate change, experts say that the prevailing crisis is a combination of governance and policy failures which go back decades, and the apathy of the Indian state to the suffering of the poor.

Rajendra Singh, the famous water conservationist from drought-hit Rajasthan, who won the 2015 Stockholm Water Prize, said that India’s “manmade drought” is the result of the Indian government’s non-seriousness about water security.

As long as short term monetary gain of a few trump the long-term prosperity of many, this sort of crisis will keep revisiting us in different forms, each time worse than the previous. By then, saving a few drops will likely not help in saving our hides.

So, what is the way forward? How are we to rise over this and prevent future such incidents from occurring?

According to N.C.Saxena, former secretary of the Ministry of Rural Development, there is no “carefully considered” policies in place or preventative strategies that can be put in motion in times of crises such as these. From cultivating crops that aren’t water guzzlers to “papering over the deep-rooted problems” with short-term solutions, our government has been guilty of not being proactive and forward-thinking.

Instead of pushing dole-oriented schemes, Saxena said that the government needs to engage with people, teach them water harvesting, contour-bunding and agroforestry, and then make them responsible for maintaining these resources.

The time for short-gap solutions to plug in the cracks has long gone. Now is the time for the government to rally round think tanks and NGOs, pool in the collective knowledge and start implementing longterm solutions for the good of the land. Until then, catchy slogans will not be worth the paper they are printed upon.

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