Where Has Water Disappeared? A Looming Crisis


Dr Ravi P Bhatia – TRANSCEND Media Service

Cascada Barba de Abuelo, a waterfall in Aitken Park in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Although the region has some of the world’s biggest freshwater reserves, local residents have to pay for the water they use for household needs and irrigation. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

24 Mar 2018 – It is a well-known and unfortunate fact that our environment is highly polluted – air, soil, rivers, and forests, have all become degraded and contaminated. This causes uneven weather conditions, damage to crops, extinction of several species of flora and fauna, serious health problems, global warming and climate change on our Earth.

As a result of global warming several glaciers are melting, leading to rising sea levels and many small islands facing the risk of being submerged in Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans.

On the other side, a contrary development is taking place; several rivers that had remained full of water earlier are facing depletion of their water content in some months since the faster melting results in the river waters flowing into oceans and seas. Another problem — some ponds and lakes are disappearing.

This is happening in many parts of the world including parts of Africa and Asia with serious consequences – sources of water for domestic, animal use and agriculture are shrinking and causing immense hardship. With shrinking water resources, governments are asking the citizens to ration its use both at home and for watering their plants and for animals.

A well-known New Delhi based organization named Center for Science and Environment (CSE) under the spirited woman editor Sunita Narain, brings out a very significant fortnightly journal Down to Earth that deals with environmental problems and climate change issues across the world. In its latest issue (16-31 March 2018) the journal has reported that Cape Town in South Africa is reeling under the crisis of a severe water shortage. It is facing a situation that the water will completely run out unless serious attention is paid to the looming tragedy.

What is happening in Cape Town is not unique. Many regions in India including its capital are facing severe shortages of water. Several regions are being desertified (becoming deserts) as water sources are disappearing, agriculture is failing and people are forced to move to other regions leaving their homes and animals in peril.

Cauvery River in South India is a very important source of water for obvious reasons for people as well as for local industries in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Conflicting demands for use of water in this river from the two States has resulted in the Supreme Court of India intervening and deciding what portions of the waters should go to the two States.

A tributary named Gomti of the major Indian River Ganga is also facing degradation due to environmental problems – contamination, shrinking, drying up during lean months. Again the people living nearby feel unhappy and distressed.

The states of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat and on the western side of India are also facing shortages of water in some months of the year. A way out has been to construct dams on the river Narmada that provides water for agriculture as well as for production of electric power. However again due to the disputes regarding sharing of waters from this river, there have been protests by farmers and NGOs.

One well known organization that is looking after the issue of water sharing in this region is named Narbada Bachao Andolan (Protest to save Narmada) under the leadership of a brave woman Medha Patkar. She has become familiar with the problems farmers as well as ordinary people who face submergence of their homes and farms. She is adopting Gandhian methods of resistance and fasting as well approaching the Supreme Court for justice, and has met partial success in her efforts.

Recently, many farmers marched hundreds of kilometers from different villages in the state of Maharashtra (western part of India) to Mumbai. They were marching for creating awareness of their problems – agricultural, environmental and disappearance of water bodies. Among the marchers were several women who were asking for availability of clean wells and lakes for water for domestic and agriculture use. One of these women marchers was an illiterate poor woman named Shekhubai aged 65 years.

As indicated earlier the capital of India is also facing a severe water shortage despite the river Yamuna flowing nearby. One problem is that the water supply is shrinking; the other is that the water is contaminated with chemical discharge from several industrial units and untreated sewage flowing into the river. Since the capacity of cleaning the contaminated waters is limited the government agencies are limiting the supply of water to homes and offices. Even in my own home as well as in my neighborhood, there is shortage of water. One can observe several women and children on several roadside water taps, lining up with their pitchers and buckets to fill up this precious commodity.

People ask in their ignorance and frustration, ‘Where Has Water Disappeared?’

Part of the answer is in the neo-liberal ideology propagated by IMF, the World Bank and the Washington consensus, for the development paradigm that is being followed not only in the rich western countries but also in many developing nations which overexploits the resources of the Earth without adequately being concerned with the environmental consequences. Another part is due to our life styles and consumerism that wealthy people follow all over the world.

In fact, several women had earlier pointed out to the adverse consequences of our developmental paradigm and life styles. One of the earliest women who wrote about the problem of degradation of nature was the British woman Madeleine Slade who is better known as Mira Behn after she joined Mahatma Gandhi in his Ashram in 1925. She wrote,

‘The tragedy today is that educated and moneyed classes are altogether out of touch with the vital fundamentals of existence of our Mother Earth and the vegetable and animal population which it sustains.’

Another woman, Donella Meadows (1941 – 2001) a well-known American environmental scientist and writer had also issued a warning in the influential book The Limits to Growth and Thinking in Systems: A Primer. She had in her Meadows Report pointed out the unsustainability of unlimited economic growth for our ecosystem and the Earth.

Many people are now saying that let us follow the advice and actions of some spirited women who are working for a clean and green environment.


Dr Ravi P Bhatia is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment, an educationist, Gandhian scholar and peace researcher. Retired professor, Delhi University.  ravipbhatia@gmail.com


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 26 Mar 2018.

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