Just as the EU and the US pay farmers not to produce, India may want to look at subsidizing the move away from water-intensive cash crops to crops that do not need so much water. The bulk of farmer suicides are from water- scarce regions that are growing water- intensive crops.

Dune, by Frank Herbert, is one of the most fascinating science fiction books of all time. Set in a galaxy far away, it combines themes of religion, metaphysics, space travel, feudal behaviour, and a messiah who will lead a proud, yet exiled, race to greatness. At the core of the story is the desert planet Arrakis. Inhabitants of the planet, nomads called Fremen, live in caves which offer them protection from the elements.

The Freman wears body armour called the Stillsuit. It not just prevents them from being harmed by the hostile ecosystem, but also allows them to recycle every little bit of water given out by the body. The idea was that water was so rare on that world, wasting it was unthinkable. Although Arrakis is a fictitious planet, and the Fremen a fictitious race, their issues of water and water conservation are very real.

As the world’s population increases, as demands for a better life grow, the pressure on the world’s water resources are increasing. Many parts of the world face an acute shortage of water.

According to the UN, 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity. In a 2010 report, the Centre for Strategic and International Studies predicted that in two decades, it won’t be terrorism or war that would change the equation in the Middle East — it would be acute scarcity of water.

India has a water crisis looming. Large swathes of western and central India are water scarce regions. With the current drought in parts of Maharashtra, there are areas that have not received water for weeks. About 4,000 villages in Saurashtra are in the same situation. Migration from rural to urban India has begun. There is nothing more desperate than leaving one’s home to search for one of the most fundamental requirements of life — water. And there is nothing more shameful for a country than coming to a situation where its people cannot access water, not because of poor rainfall or dried up rivers but because of greed, corruption, and lack of policy.

India is home to around 18% of the world’s population that lives in approximately 2.6% (China is 6%) of the total land mass of the earth, with a population density of 350 people per square kilometre. There is a tremendous pressure on all resources, none more so than that which sustains life itself — water. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, India has just 4% of the world’s renewable water resources.

In 1951, there was a per capita availability of 5177 cubic metres of water; in 2001 that figure reduced to 1820 m3, and in 2011 that had dropped to 1545 m3. Unless someone figures out a way of making water in a laboratory, or a cost efficient way of desalinating large amounts of sea water, without disturbing the marine eco system, there is a disaster just around the corner, and there seems to be no urgency to tackle it. There is going to be, sooner or later, a massive shortage of water.

If water cannot be ‘created’ then people and policies have to be geared to save, conserve, recycle and optimise water utilisation. This cannot be achieved unless all parts of the system work in tandem: citizens, industry, and government.

At the level of the household it is changes in lifestyle. Use a bucket of water rather than showering, shut the tap while brushing teeth, check for leakages and plug them; shut all taps tightly. While the water saved by an individual might not be much, practised across millions, it does make a difference.

More importantly, it becomes part of a conservation mind-set. Equally important is building societies and housing associations investing in rain water harvesting. Even if the space is too little for them to build tanks that store this water and use it later, it is a worthwhile exercise, because it recharges the rapidly-decreasing ground water levels. It is also important that citizens and the media become more politically aware and keep an eye on proposed projects, so that delays and corruption are discovered and dealt with before it becomes a crisis.

A second option that needs to be looked at, on a priority basis, is recycling of water, by both households and industry. This is a process where sewage water is treated and purified and put to use again. While it may not be used for drinking or bathing, it can definitely be used for cleaning, irrigation, and keeping parks, golf courses and IPL pitches green. This would especially be useful in urban localities where there is a tremendous concentration of population, and the disparity between the water-rich and the water-poor is stark. In a predominantly agrarian country, water recycling can also ease the pressure on rapid ground water depletion.

The third is to look at incentivizing farmers in water scarce areas from growing water intensive crops such as sugar cane and cotton. Just as the EU and the US pay farmers not to produce, India may want to look at subsidizing the move away from water intensive cash crops to crops that do not need so much water. It should come as no surprise that the bulk of farmer suicides are from water scarce regions that are growing water intensive crops.

Also, maybe it is time that the powers that be revive the National River Linking project that has been on the backburner for the last decade or so. It is estimated that this would generate around 175 trillion litres of water. Not to mention other benefits.

Finally, we need to get the next generation, who are going to live with the consequences of our consumption, to think out of the box and come up with solutions. For it is they who will inherit this water-scarce world.

Courtesy: dna