Water did get attention in India first in the 2000s when the incumbent prime minister of India stated that the third world war may be fought over water and that it is going to be a very big problem in the future. It was first of its kind when a government of South Asian region publicly accepted that water scarcity and portable water are serious social problems.
In a region, every year fed by heavy rains and floods washing away a thousand acres of crops, claiming hundreds of lives and damaging crores of property, it is nearly impossible to apprehend the reasoning of a world war for water. The seriousness and callousness of the issue are felt only when every year just before rains creating a catastrophe, millions suffer to get enough water to drink in hot summers. Every year, the number of cities reaching saturation levels of water replacement is piling up. And the issue doesn’t even include the scarcity of water for irrigation so far.
To handle the situation and upcoming crisis, the ingenious idea of connecting water bodies especially rivers were formulated. It drew support and opposition equally. Support from commoners using the simple algebra of combining all the waters of India is greater than the total scarcity. And, there’s opposition from the environmentalists stating that water is a huge ecosystem altering which would leave very long term impact on bio-diversity and hence humans. The debate continues to date.
Years later in 2018, I was in Rajasthan for a project to design a virtual program to solve the issue of water in a district. A multidisciplinary group of students, all from the development sector, studied the problem on the ground and developed the program over months.
Our finding was that the issue of water is more local than global. Reasons for scarcity lie mainly at the village and town level depending on the pattern of use, the status of water bodies, change in the micro-climate, deforestation and grazing, and attempts to save water.
Mathematically, by any means, if the total demand exceeds total supply, there would be scarcity. And the gap keeps on increasing with time, turning farmers into labourers or job seekers, migrants and in debt. Again, another important fact discovered was that the demand for water is purely local, dependent on micro-climate including temperature and terrain. It limits the type of crops a region can grow, type of activities it can be involved in and type of vegetation that would survive it.
For example, the area had sandy soil with scanty bush forests and rocky depth under the surface. This means that it wouldn’t need a lot of rain to survive the forests if deforestation doesn’t dominate and it would not need a lot of water for irrigation since the climate favours millets and spices, not needing water as it was paddy.
The understanding was clear that if the crop pattern follows the micro-climate, and the deviant crop pattern follows the water conservation measures, mitigation and control are possible. Another aspect of it is individual behaviour such as rainwater harvesting, household water waste, and domestic water rationalization. And, the most important factor about any other region would be the rationalization of industrial use of the water which has no data or information available in the public domain.
Therefore, it was very clear that water depletes in the locality, under the feet where people demanding water to live.
The solution lies herein only. Additional water stored from runaway into the rivers could be collected much before it runs away into the rivers. And, big water reservoirs are of limited use, especially for commercial purposes. Water remains local needing micro-management.