Humdrum, boring and so very unsexy..

When I think about water, I wonder why this topic does not get more attention. But I guess I should not be surprised.

Water is humdrum; so very unsexy. There is nothing titillating about it. It hardly arouses passion – or gets someone in frenzy. It has zero glamour. Frankly, it is quite boring.

So allow me to try and shock you a little bit.

Did you know that at least a fifth of our population does not have access to clean drinking water? Or that lack of access to clean water & sanitation across the world kills children at a rate equivalent to that of a jumbo jet crashing every four hours?

Did you know that in eastern UP, contaminated water may have led to the death of 50,000 children over the last 35 years? Read that again. These 50,000 children died due to ground water contamination & lack of piped water supply. Now try and remember the last time you heard someone get passionate about clean water.

Did you know that between 40%-50% of water supplied to cities is lost in distribution? In plain English, it leaks through the pipes and is wasted. In a plain world, this would be considered criminal. Delhi receives 220 litres of water per person per day – much more than Paris. But as much as 70% of that is probably lost in distribution.

Did you know that per official estimates, India might run short of water by 2050, when the population is expected to peak at 1.7bn?

Have you ever thought that water – or lack of it – can not only cause huge social unrest, it can actually trigger wars? I am not making this up. Here is Prof. Brahma Chellaney writing about Chinese plans to dam the Brahmaputra: “The mega-rerouting (of Tibetan waters northwards) would constitute the declaration of a water war on lower-riparian India and Bangladesh”

Prof Chellaney is hardly alone. Rohit Singh in “The Geopolitics of the Tibetan Plateau” mentions: “The countries that would be most gravely affected by China’s plans are India and Bangladesh.. A shortage of water in the Ganges has already affected the lives of millions of people in Bangladesh and has driven them to illegally migrate to India.

This migration has resulted in a marked demographic change in India’s North-eastern states (especially Assam) and has been the cause of several social and cultural conflicts in the region.  If Bangladesh faces a shortage of water in the Brahmaputra due to China’s upstream diversion plans, this migration will likely increase to dangerous levels and threaten the lives of thousands in Assam and other states.”

Martin Walker, Editor Emeritus at UPI goes one step further: “The most dangerous place on Earth right now may not be in Iraq, nor in the Gaza Strip nor even in some underground nuclear laboratory in Iran or North Korea. It is on the roof of the world, at a place called Namcha Barwa (Tibet).

…There is no doubt..China needs the water. But so do India and Bangladesh.

In this context, water is a matter of life and death, which is why the decision to be made in Beijing whether to go ahead with damming the Brahmaputra makes this tiny corner of Tibet potentially the most dangerous place on Earth.”

And yet the subject of “Water” hardly gets the treatment it deserves in our national discourse – or in mainstream media.

We ignore this issue at great peril. Water scarcity is a real problem in most Indian cities and no major city has assured, continuous clean water supply in India

Meanwhile, the lakes and natural reservoirs are depleting at a rapid rate, leading to increasingly frequent “water cuts”. Steady urbanisation and increase in urban built up areas is directly affecting natural water sources. In Bengaluru for instance, over the last few decades, the number of active wetlands has dipped from 51 to 17 (in 2007); the number of lakes has down from 159 to 93.

Poor planning takes its toll too. In a sad irony, Cherapunji which is one of the wettest places on Earth faces an acute water shortage in the three months of summer.

Water scarcity and severe shortages may be closer than we think. The problem is real. Water matters. Sadly, few people realise how much.

What can you do? Quite a lot actually.

Becoming aware of the nature of the challenge is good start. Making others aware can be a good next step. How?

Unusual, attention grabbing factoids may help – or talking about “water-footprints”. How about telling your friends that 1 cup of coffee = 140 litres of water?!  That is the amount of water used up in a cup of coffee if we were to calculate the water used to grow, pack & ship the beans! Or how about having them watch “Thirst” by Jeff Brenman?

But our voices need to reach where they would really make an impact – at the level of policy makers. In a democracy, the way to that is via your leaders. So next time someone comes to your door asking for votes, please ask them what are they doing about clean regular water supply in your area and while they are at it, ask them about their plans for sewage disposal too.

Until then, have a look at some unusual approaches – modern as well as traditional. And do share your own thoughts on what else can be done to sensitise people to this humdrum, boring and so very unsexy subject.