Monday, May 20, 2013

questions of what to drink and how

The question of water

The official cause of death was 'cardiac arrest', brought on by exhaustion and dehydration. Parvati Jadhav was tired, stressed and needed to drink more water. A year ago, Jadhav died in a hilly village called Dolara, district Thane. According to news reports, people counted on a government-supplied water tanker. 1,400 people needed 20 litres of water per day, or 28,000 litres. The government sent 8,000 litres once in four days. That's 1.5 litres per head.

Can you imagine surviving on 1.5 litres of water? Dehydration is a given. Disease is expected. Conflict is inevitable. In Jadhav's case, she got nothing from the tanker, had to trek a few kilometres further to a well, where a fight broke out and probably brought on her cardiac arrest.

In Dolara, the only water source was the well and reports suggest the water was not really potable. Since 2012, there have been reports of water being sold in tribal villages for Rs 15 a bottle. Now Maharashtra is supposed to be reeling under a drought. In Thane district alone, the state acknowledges a water crisis in 388 villages. But the action plan reportedly involves sending tankers to 100 villages. There is no clarity on how much water will be sent – 1.5 litres per person? – or what happens to the other 288 villages.

Meanwhile, Thane's 'guardian' minister Ganesh Naik has been quoted as saying that there is no water crisis. There are also reports of a fresh influx of migrants in the district's urban areas because people are fleeing water-scarce villages. Mumbai is also perpetually reeling from a crisis of overcrowding.

I think now would be a good time to start asking a lot of questions. Thane district has two rivers, Ulhas and Vaitarna, which flows across Shahpur and Vada, which are water-scarce areas. How does a place become so water-scarce if a major river flows past? There are at least seven dams in the district and some articifical lakes created to supply drinking water. Yet Parvati Jadhav had to die, fighting for water. So, who exactly is the water being supplied to?

Recently, there was a joke on a radio station – something about a child misunderstanding the 'save water' campaign and wanting to mix the sev (from sev-puri) with buckets of water. It's intended as a pun. Which is alright, I suppose. The man's voice laughs, then mentions kids playing around a water fountain. In a newly constructed housing complex. Essentially, it's advertising. Which is also alright. Who wouldn't want to live in a complex with lots of space and lots of water?

But the ad made me think of our blinkered relationship with water. Even in areas much closer to Mumbai, like Diva, there is a crisis. Reports say that Diva residents spend several hours a day commuting to Mumbra just to fill water. And yet, homes are built (often illegally) and bought in Diva. The assumption is that the administration will eventually start to supply enough water.

Nobody really cares where the administration will get so much water. Some lake or dam, right? But diverting water from rivers means that people who used to depend on the river will now be left, quite literally, high and dry. People like Parvati Jadhav.

Mumbai and Thane and dozens of other cities in the state are seeing new suburbs come up. I wonder how many of them have considered making water harvesting compulsory. Do city administrations have a plan for water that does not involve snatching water from the villages? I think now would be a good time to ask these questions.

First published here

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