‘So, how is the water scenario?’ I asked my mother over phone.

‘Newspaper reports suggest that the dam has 7 days of water left in it. I think they will start cutting water supply in the next few days.’

‘But it’ll not affect us, right?’

‘I hope not. The boring is deep here but the electricity supply has become random. We can’t have water until there is electricity,’ she sighed.

I visited the small town in Jharkhand where my father is posted currently a few days after this conversation took place. The situation was grim. The dam which caters to the water needs of around 1.5 lakh residents (Census 2001 data puts the population figure at 1.27 lakh) of this town did not have much water left. I found a long queue at a hand pump stationed very near to the house where we stay. There was dejection written on the faces of men, women, and children in the queue as the hand pump refused to cough up any more water. The water table has gone down. The boring in our house is deep but as my mother pointed out there is a huge problem of electricity supply. Inverters have become integral part of the life of people of this scenic town. I even witnessed the landlady consulting a ‘pundit’ to pinpoint a guaranteed location for getting water in case there is a need to have another boring to tide over this water crisis.

Not very far away, an unlikeliest candidate for water scarcity problem is facing a similar situation. Patna, my native place, is probably one of the very few cities in the world to be located in the vicinity of four perennial rivers. If newspaper reports are to be believed then it is going through one the acutest drinking water shortages in the recent memory.

Residents have come out on streets demanding regular supply of water. The water table has gone down here as well but that is only one aspect of this problem. With the entire city dependent on ground water very little was done in past to build a mechanism to provide drinking water directly from River Ganges. The state government seems to have come out of its slumber lately and is preparing a plan to provide drinking water directly from ‘Ganga’ to at least a part of the city. Then there is the usual problem of implementation issues – The existing pumps are overloaded; the hand pumps are not maintained properly (A report in today’s Dainik Hindustan suggests that this is done deliberately); the water pipes are old (There has been an order to replace the water pipes in some areas) and what not.

And it is not that only Bihar and Jharkhand are reeling under the water crisis. Picture these:

Scene 1: Last year, the entire Madhya Pradesh went through similar fate. Residents of cities like Indore and Bhopal were not able to get water supply for 10 or more days at stretch. Reason – the water sources of these cities went dry. Riot like situations were reported at few places if I could recall correctly. Imagine if one has to go through such adverse situations.

Scene 2: A village in Rajasthan has now only few viable sources of water – all of these are locked. There is assigned quota of water on the basis of caste and one cannot take more than what is allotted. Taking more than the share allotted would mean punishment (the news report did not go into the specifics). This would mean taking bath once in a week (with what was shown in report, it was not even the customary bath – it was more like what we say in Hindi ‘Haanth Mooh dho lena’). If this situation persists for long, there is a high possibility of class war taking place across regions.

Scene 3: Last year, farmers in Bihar took up arms to protect the water they claimed to be their own. With water becoming scarcer, such situations will come up more frequently and may result in undesirable consequences.

I mentioned all these instances to drive in the need for a better Water Management mechanism in our country. The problem of water shortage can only be addressed by the collective actions of all the pillars of society – the administration, the corporate and the citizens. I believe the actions of the citizens hold the key to solve this problem. And I also believe that we have not acted responsibly till now. Just to illustrate on this point – two days back while we were returning from an outing, I pointed out a municipal water supply point without any mechanism to stop the flow of water to my friends. Obviously, a lot of water is being wasted every day because of this. However, what disturbed me more than this were the replies that I got from my friends.

‘What do you expect in Calcutta?’ said one. And it is true. Such a sight is common if you reside in the city of Calcutta/Kolkata. However, this remark somehow suggests that people have stopped to bother.

Another friend replied, ‘But there is no water scarcity in Calcutta’. First of all, I think that this statement may not be true. As far as I know localities like Lake Town etc. do not have proper drinking water supply. Second, even if his statement was true – is it wise to squander our resources just because we have plenty of it? 
If the above example in a way shows our indifference to the cause of water, the next one will show complete disregard for this precious natural resource.

One of my very dear friends has a very weird habit. He lets the tap running in full flow throughout his stay in restroom. Confront him on this and he is likely to reply – ‘Ask me to do anything but not this. This is a habit and I cannot get out of it even if I try’.

My friends and I have tried many times to reason with him and have not succeeded till now. Thinking of him, I am always reminded of old Doordarshan Ad – ‘Pani ka mol pahchaniye Yeh anmol hai’. I think there is a need for similar effective campaigns now (I barely watch television nowadays and hence do not know if we have similar initiatives on air) – the people should be sensitized about the challenges lying ahead and should be encouraged to act accordingly.

So what’s next? I have often been told to stop asking people to change their ways for a cause as it is difficult to change habits/ move against tide. But as old habits die hard, I am going to ask again – is it so difficult to change? I think it is difficult but not impossible. I had this bad habit of leaving my workstation on after work (Reason- Superstition). My friend pointed out to me that this act is a means to waste electricity (It was not as if I was not aware of it). He asked me to switch off my workstation daily and I was reluctant to do so (I told you na… it was superstition). It took a lot of coaxing from his part and little understanding from my side to make me do the right thing. Now, I switch off my workstation every day without fail. The electricity which I save through this may not be much but if such understanding is shown at mass level we can make big difference. I think similar mass level actions can do wonders for solving the water problem in many parts of the country.

‘Will this be enough?’ Many of my friends have raised this issue when I discussed the water scarcity problem and the above solution with them. The answer is ‘No’ but at least this will be the first step in the right direction. We would then need a more active participation at the community level. I am sure many constructive steps can be taken at the micro level to assuage the problem of water scarcity. We all know of ‘Rain Water Harvesting’ (though I have rarely seen it implemented) and I am sure that there would be many such effective methods. In my search for possible solutions, I put across this question in the Patna community in Orkut (While raising the issue of water scarcity in the city) with the hope that some knowledgeable junta can shed light on it. I am still awaiting any positive reply on this topic. I know this may not be the most effective way to search a solution – I felt that sharing my concerns with people who have been affected by the problem might bring out the collectivism required to address the issue. I am just hoping that I am right in this regard.

‘Bin Pani sab soon’ (without water there is nothing) is an old proverb – residents across vast stretch of this country are discovering its relevance now. People have predicted that the third World War will be fought over Water and this may be realized sooner than later. The ball is now in our court. The big question is – are we willing to do our part?

Rahul Shanu, Guest Contributor, PatnaDaily.Com

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