7 April 2016

Water water every... Where?

We have predictably downgraded the public discourse on water use to IPL vs Farmers.

The issue, to illustrate which IPL is cited, is the Mary Antoinette approach to allocation of public resources. 

There are neatly maintained green lawns in various parts of Delhi, including the airport. Delhi is not naturally meant to be green during any time outside of the rains. Our desire for all this green stems from a need to feed the eyes of the rich, whose eyes are granted the restricted access, so that they can remark how green and 'beautiful' the airport looks. More importantly, it stems from the  philosophy of human development being equated to conquering nature, like building ski resorts in Dubai.

There is a water fountain outside Bangalore airport. There are swimming pools and bathrooms with water guzzling showers in fancy hotels. The same hotels will have placards announcing how green and responsible they are, requesting you to avoid washing towels - that is if you can avoid it, with the promise of feeding your self-important environmental conscience. 

If you have a watered ornamental garden, that is also a tiny item on the long list of avoidable luxuries that are subsidized by drought hit farmers and parched fields. Not all subsidies are in cash. Some are paid in kind, using the lives of the poor.

At the Paris climate summit we claimed that the Indian per capita carbon emission is only 1.6 tonnes/year, so our lifestyle is sustainable and indeed a role model. Compared to the obscene 17 tonnes/year emitted by the average American. What this hides is the huge disparity between the rich and the poor in India. 

The top 10% of urban India emit 15 times as much carbon as the bottom 10%, and 27 times the bottom 10% of rural India . The emissions of the rich is camouflaged and subsidised by the poor, both between nations and between peoples of the same nation. The same principle applies to land and water as well.

We are hiding behind the poor and feeling good about ourselves. Reminds me of what a friend used to say about averages - one foot on ice and one foot on fire, on an average it feels very comfortable. 

Water is a public resource, which means it belongs equally to everyone in this country. Why then are some people deprived and some blessed with plenty? What is the philosophy of governance that results in this inequity?

The solution is not a deep dive into the economics of IPL or blaming the bureaucracy, government and lack of technology for agrarian distress. We need to face reality - we cannot conquer nature. We must respect its bounty and remember that despite the bounty, resources are not infinite. There is finite amounts of everything that we can all share and thrive as a species. This would mean giving up supply-demand free-market theories for things like water, air, land, food and nature. This would mean using only what is needed, and not maximizing exploitation and consumption. This also means we cannot continue growth and consumption at some prefixed rate of 7%.

This would mean drawing up a balance sheet for water, and building a policy on how much we can each use, who gets to use, and how we recharge the ground water table. We need this to survive as a species.


Anonymous said...

Watch Sainath's recent speech on whether water is a fundamental right . He touches upon similar points https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZsQpPn4qJU&feature=youtu.be

Mad Blogger said...

well written da machi. water, with the recent turn of events on the Cauvery dispute, should have tickled more minds and conscience, but none would dare to accept abuse of a plentiful resource

Watson Zion said...

Elegantly composed da machi. water, with the current unforeseen development on the Cauvery debate, ought to have stimulated more Affordable Master’s Thesis Consulting personalities and soul, yet none would set out to acknowledge manhandle of an abundant asset. Watch Sainath's current discourse on whether water is a major right.

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Lou Pole said...

So who is going to decide who gets water? who can emit how much CO2? In the not too distant future, someone is going to have to decide who can have children and who cannot. . .

You ready for that bunky?