Water: A common heritage or a commodity?
Dr K Kranthi Kumar Reddy 'Water, water everywhere, only if we share' is the official slogan of World Water Day. March 22, 2013 is the 20th...
Dr K Kranthi Kumar Reddy
"Water, water everywhere, only if we share" is the official slogan of World Water Day. March 22, 2013 is the 20th anniversary of World Water Day. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation. Today we have another opportunity to raise awareness of people around the world who do not have access to clean water. Global water supplies face mounting pressures from increasing population, global warming, and a troubled agri-food system. Although the earth has 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water, only 0.001 percent of that is accessible for human consumption. NASA's satellite pictures depict a gloomy picture: Blues and greens replaced by yellows and reds indicating depleting water resources and desertification. Increasing specter of droughts in most parts of the globe and the urgency for action to safeguard water resources is clear. A new anxiety has emerged in recent years relating to groundwater. Modern pumps installed in the name of progress have unfortunately succeeded in withdrawing water at an unsustainable rate, thereby causing thousands of wells to run dry and consequently causing suffering for many. In many parts of the country aquifers are getting depleted or contaminated. In times of drought, we tend to drill for water by digging bore wells. But the Earth has a finite supply. A The World Bank estimated the potential water market at $1trillion. While drought and desertification are intensifying around the world, corporations are aggressively converting water into bottled profits. Privatization of water has resulted in profits for corporations while increasing the economic burden on the poor. The water wars of the 21st century may surpass the oil wars of the 20th century. We often talk of a world of nuclear haves and have-nots, but a world of water haves and have-nots could fast become a dangerous reality. Water has come to play a key role in politics. In the last 50 years, there have been 37 incidents of acute conflict over water globally. During the same period, 295 international water agreements were negotiated and signed. In India, inter-State river-water disputes are in fact the most visible manifestation of water politics. In recent times we have seen the dispute over the sharing of Cauvery waters between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the Almatti dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and the dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the Mullapperiyar dam. Global population has gone from 4 billion in 1975 to around 7 billion today. The UN projects the global population to hit 9 billion by 2050. Meanwhile, as India, China, and Africa continue to add millions to their middle classes, global demand for all kinds of food and water is bound to increase. According to the WHO, more than 780 million people lack access to clean water. More than 3 million people die every year from this shortage. Studies also indicate about 1.5 million children under the age of five die each year and 443 million school days are lost because of water- and sanitation-related diseases. A WHO and UNICEF study found some 24,000 children in developing countries were dying each day from preventable causes like diarrhea resulting from polluted water. This means that a child dies every three-and-a-half seconds. By 2025 the demand for fresh water is expected to rise by over 50% more than the amount of water that is currently available. MNCs recognize these trends and are trying to monopolize water supplies around the world. Monsanto, Bechtel, and other multinationals are seeking control of world water supplies. The World Bank recently adopted a policy of water privatization and full-cost water pricing. The World Bank's policy of privatizing the world's water supply conveniently coincides with the United Nations Agenda 21. Agenda 21 is actively promoting privatization for the world's water supplies through a "water for profit" scheme. It advocates delegation of water resources management to local authorities, private enterprises and communities. There are instances where the UN's financial partner, the World Bank, insisted on privatization of water as a precondition for debt relief, as in the case of Bolivia.In order to meet all urban, agricultural, and ecological needs for water, it is crucial to develop innovative water-saving systems for the future of food production. It takes roughly 3,000 liters of water to meet one person's daily dietary needs, or roughly 1 liter per calorie. The amount of water needed to produce one kilogram of red meat averages to 24,000 liters of water. Diversion to vegetarian diets can no doubt help conserve water resources. We need to consider large-scale desalinization where the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are world leaders. In recent times we have seen the dispute over the sharing of Cauvery waters between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the Almatti dispute between Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and the dispute between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over the Mullapperiyar dam Irrigation is currently responsible for 70 percent of the world's water withdrawals; yet an astonishing 60 percent of irrigated water is wasted. The availability of irrigation water led to adoption of water-intensive cropping patterns, as in the case of paddy in Punjab where it was unknown earlier. To overcome water scarcity, farmers need to increase water-use efficiency in agriculture by diversifying farms by planting trees, cover crops and intercropping to help keep nutrients and water in the soil, protecting plants from drought and making sure that every drop of water delivered by rainfall or irrigation can be utilized. Drip irrigation can save 40 percent of water, carrying water directly to the plants' roots. Remote controlled irrigation systems that allow farmers to use mobile phones to turn their irrigation systems on and off help reduce the amount of water and electricity wasted on watering fields that are already saturated. A village in Bihar set a world record for rice produced in a single hectare by adopting SRI system, a process which saves water. The yield of wet paddy has been recorded at 22.4 tonnes per hectare and that of dry paddy at 20.16 tonnes. We need to fund research into more effective cropping systems. Alternative community-based strategies in water management have to be evolved. Resistance to corporate maneuvers to convert this life-sustaining resource into profits has to be recognised. The right to water requires that water is available, accessible, safe, acceptable and affordable for all without discrimination. OPINION