Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Monday, Mar 29, 2004
Columns - Random Walk
How dry is my valley!
LAST week, the Chief Minister, Mr A. K. Antony, told newspersons after a Cabinet meeting that, in view of the recurring droughts, the State Government had resolved to elevate conservation of water resources and protection of riparian rights to the top of its policy priorities list.
Against the backdrop of the acute water crisis facing the State, Mr Antony said, most of the inter-State river water sharing agreements had been virtual give-aways, executed on the basis of exaggerated claims to ownership of surplus water resources.
Even what were once considered `perennial' rivers have dried up. Indiscriminate mining of rivers for sand has only aggravated the situation.
The Chief Minister said that the drought relief measures proposed included reaching drinking water to affected areas, compensating farmers for damages, and creating badly needed employment opportunities for farm and plantation labourers.
It is sad to see a lush green land such as Kerala being slowly transformed into a wasteland. But behind that transformation can be traced some stark ignorance of harsh realities.
Water, needless to stress, is essential to all life. Yet, according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), one in three Asians lacks access to safe drinking water, and half the people living in Asia and the Pacific do not have access to adequate sanitation.
Today, over 1.1 billion people of the world's population lack access to improved water supply and 2.4 billion people lack access to improved sanitation. Recent studies predict that by 2025, two out of three people in the world will be facing a water shortage.
As a critical natural resource and a socially vital economic good, water needs to be managed in an integrated and holistic manner to ensure its efficient and sustainable use. Perhaps it's time for Kerala too to explore watershed development and management, normally associated with drylands.
Andhra Pradesh is in the forefront of watershed development. The State has so far initiated about 7,000 watersheds covering about 3 million hectares, roughly a third of the land that needs treatment and a fifth of the total rain-fed area in the State.
Examples also abound from the State of Gujarat, where the water problem is dismal. In Bhal, for instance, an NGO persuaded the Gujarat Water Supply and Sewerage Board (GWSSB) to support decentralised rainwater harvesting structures in the villages. Previously, GWSSB had been supplying drinking water through pipelines in a centralised system that bred corruption and conflicts.
In Bhavnagar district, the women overturned a village council's decision to use machines to dig pipelines for a water supply project. They advocated the use of manual labour to address the village's need for employment, and to foster a stronger sense of ownership for the project. Surprisingly enough, the task was completed ahead of schedule.
In the village of Neswad, a group of vigilant women has been guarding the overhead tank of the community water supply scheme to prevent pilferage of water by members of a headstrong section of the village who refused to contribute to the common fund for maintenance and repairs.
These are the examples that Kerala needs to follow, as the State grapples with a problem that is only bound to worsen in the years to come.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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