Sunday, July 12, 2009

India Goes Dry - A World In Peril

Our leaders may not want to talk about the environmental cataclysm setting in around the world but those living with it are more than willing to talk.

I've been exchanging e-mails recently with an elderly Indian woman, a well-educated and highly intelligent individual. She's eager to discuss what lies in store for her fellow countrymen and mankind in general as they confront the challenges that can no longer be avoided.

Perhaps the greatest problem facing Indians today is disruption of their freshwater resources. They're now experiencing a triple-whammy. The Himalayan glaciers, whose headwaters supply India's key agricultural rivers, are in headlong retreat. As National Public Radio reported a couple of months ago, India's "green revolution" is beginning to teeter because it relied of massive overexploitation of the country's groundwater reserves. Now it's the missing monsoon.

The life-giving monsoon ought to have arrived five weeks ago but the Pacific has just been hit by a massive El Nino so much larger and different than previous El Ninos that they've renamed it El Nino Modoki. These ocean phenomenon usually disrupt rainfall to places like India and Australia. The Sydney Morning Herald reports alarm is spreading through India:

There are reports that monsoon-dependent crops in the north of the country have already been spoiled because of very hot weather and a lack of rain. Fears of a below-par monsoon in some of the most important farming districts have triggered a sharp rise in fruit and vegetable prices. This threatens to hit poor families the hardest.

The Meteorological Department, which issues a daily monsoon report, says the monsoon made a comeback last week but it admits rain has been "scanty" in some of the most productive food growing areas.

The fitful monsoon has created havoc in India's biggest city, Mumbai. Over the past fortnight the metropolis has been plunged into chaos by flash-flooding caused by heavy downpours. However, a lack of rainfall in the city's catchment areas has created a critical water shortage.

Mumbai's civic authority is so worried that it imposed a 30 per cent cut in town water last week and has stopped supplying water to non-essential services such as swimming pools.
There are reports the city may have only 20 days of water left unless the catchment areas receive more rain.

While Mumbai may have only 20-days of water stocks remaining, my friend, Salima, tells me that many smaller cities ran out of water in early April. Residents there who can afford it have to buy water that's trucked in which means water for drinking and perhaps some for cooking but none for sanitation or hygiene. It doesn't take much imagination to figure out what that will mean if this continues even for a matter of months longer.

India's government, however, is still forging ahead and is targetting for economic growth this year of 5%. What I'm told suggests they're running on autopilot.

To give you a clearer grasp of India's predicament, consider this from The Guardian:

It was a little after 8pm when the water started flowing through the pipe running beneath the dirt streets of Bhopal's Sanjay Nagar slum. After days without a drop of water, the Malviya family were the first to reach the hole they had drilled in the pipe, filling what containers they had as quickly as they could. Within minutes, three of them were dead, hacked to death by angry neighbours who accused them of stealing water.

In Bhopal, and across much of northern India, a late monsoon and the driest June for 83 years are exacerbating the effects of a widespread drought and setting neighbour against neighbour in a desperate fight for survival.

...In Bhopal, where 100,000 people rely solely on the water tankers that shuttle across the city, fights break out regularly. In the Pushpa Nagar slum, the arrival of the first tanker for two days prompted a frantic scramble, with men jostling women and children in their determination to get to the precious liquid first.

Young men scrambled on to the back of the tanker, jamming green plastic pipes through the hole on the top, passing them down to their wives or mothers waiting on the ground to siphon the water off into whatever they had managed to find: old cooking oil containers were popular, but even paint pots were pressed into service. A few children crawled beneath the tanker in the hope of catching the spillage.


Northern PoV said...

I spent 5 weeks in Southern India in 2007. Everywhere I went I read about water disputes over the local streams and of course the biggest

this is all far away from the Himalayas btw.

The Mound of Sound said...

Any ideas N-PoV how this will play out within India, the Asian region and globally?

I'm genuinely appalled that we think we'll be utterly immune to the fallout from this and other already looming problems.

The word verification for this comment was "frick" - say no more

UU4077 said...

I am quite enjoying your posts. I feel you are a brother, but with more guts than I.

However, I try to make change - a bit at a time.