Monthly Archives: September 2012

Water …..what is its real value?

In this era of climate change all of us behave like the English – we discuss the weather a lot, more specifically the monsoon. The south-west monsoon which has been playing truant this year has decided to drench some parts of the country and pass  others by leaving communities reeling in drought. In our part of the world the monsoon has been watering our land like the proverbial gardner – rain-fed crops like groundnut and millets seem happy but we are not sure what our potable water situation is going to be like for the next month.  Borewells continue to dry up even as new ones are being drilled. Small and marginal farmers are spending anywhere from Rs. 1-2 lakhs to drill a borewell hoping and praying that it will not turn up dry…..sucking them further into the quicksand of debt while they continue to look for that elusive groundwater that they hope will help pay off their debt.

Communities in search of alternatives to the drying public potable water wells either take water from obliging neighbours who have borewells that are still yielding water or are at the mercy of the Government. Rural water supply departments try and drill yet another borewell as an emergency source of water. The well hits water and everyone is happy. A precariously rigged up electrical connection provides much needed electricity to power the motor that draws water from the well. This is where the question of the real value of water needs to be asked. As the water comes gushing out of the ground people queue up to fill their pots and pans while the erratic electrical supply lasts. Between successive pots the water flows onto the street wasted! The Government or the community does not even consider setting up a holding tank to collect this flowing water that in this water scarce area is like blood pouring from an open wound. It is nobody’s problem. Who will pay to set up some sort of temporary storage? Every solution is adhoc and temporary till the next emergency!! Why can’t we have prescribed guidelines and pre-cast systems to make water available efficiently in water scarce areas? The Government’s norms and guidelines for water supply and sanitation have detailed drawings of toilets, rooftop rainwater harvesting systems….why not groundwater based emergency rural water supply systems? Do we not have the wherewithal or technology to supply water under drought condition without it gushing out of a borewell into drains?  As communities we come together when we don’t have water. What will it take for us to come together to  set up a simple solution to stop this precious resource from flowing away? The new borewell dries up and the story is repeated.

This time around there is another option – water tankers to tide over the emergency condition. What is the cost of this tanker of water – Rs. 280 for a 5000 litre tanker. How can water be sold at such a low price when we are in a drought condition? Nobody has a real answer. Mango orchard farmers in Chittoor have high yielding borewells and they are able to provide their surplus water for tankers OR Not sure where the water is coming from OR How does it matter, let’s just be happy that we are getting this water now. Once we have a good rain the water situation will improve. How long will it be before what is an “emergency condition” today becomes the norm?

A new Water Policy has been drafted in 2012 for the country with very little attention being paid to groundwater and its management. Groundwater  is the main source of water for most of our rural and urban areas – definitely the only source of water for rain-fed agricultural areas. When will we as a country and a society realise the real value of water? When will we collectively rise up and empower ourselves to treat this resource as it should be?