Water, water...

  • 30/05/2002

RIGHT now, it is politically correct to talk of water conservation. Yet ground realities have a different story to tell if one were to go by the spate of reports on water riots pouring in from across the country. It's a parched summer once again and water is suddenly precious. Hit by severe water scarcity, the states of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh have reported incidents of violence and major protests over the past few weeks. If anything this is another reflection of an inept government, which it seems has learnt no lessons from past experience. Year after year, it's the same old story - heat wave followed by depleting water resources and then drought.

Time and again we have said drought proofing is the answer, not drought relief. For this, it is essential, above all, to plan for a decentralised management strategy. And once more, this contention of ours is borne out as the problem of water scarcity spreads to more areas and visions of drought loom large. Again, as in previous years, there is a flurry of activity as relief measures are hastily put together. How much of that relief would ultimately reach the needy is anybody's guess. By official estimates itself, at least 30-40 per cent of the money never reaches the people. No other time is corruption more evident than during drought relief.

Drought becomes an annual disaster when no effort is made to drought proof. In other words, we must provide long-term relief against drought. This can only be done by regenerating the natural asset base in the rural areas, meaning thereby, good management of land, water and forest. In fact, every drop of water saved is water added to a bank. And building up of this bank is vital if drought proofing is to be seriously done. For this, every drop of water counts. There is no point in flailing about after the drought arrives. Anticipation of drought and preparing to meet it surely makes more sense. This is not difficult since drought is one disaster that arrives gradually.

It is still not too late for the government to come up with strategic initiatives to ensure security against drought. If urgent action is not taken now, all those dire warnings of water wars would soon become a reality as a thirsty people have already begun to lose their patience.

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