Water Kills ! – Drought & Food Crises are effect of Climate Change

06 Sep


I begin this article with another excerpt from the WRI blog – The unsustainable use of water and the risks it creates is on the minds of many of the thousands of water experts from the corporate, NGO, and government worlds who convened in Stockholm last week for World Water Week. Teams from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), World Resources Institute (WRI), and Water Footprint Network (WFN) convened a seminar called “Towards Sustainability: Harmonising Water Tools for Better Water Governance”.

My thoughts turn towards Cities. A lot has been written about Sustainable cities and how almost all great cities of the World  have originated around the banks of rivers. Mumbai too grew around rivers, and continued to do so till the turn of the Century when we finally turned the Mithi River into a stinking clogged drain and in 2005, she in protest inundated Mumbai. The famous Mumbai floods of 26/7/2005 would forever haunt those who suffered its wrath.

And seven years after the incident, India has learnt nothing. In fact we still alternate between drought and flood every year in some city or other.

The erratic monsoon has led to pest attacks and fungal infestation on as much as 50% of the cotton, soya and paddy crop, aggravating Vidarbha’s agrarian crisis. A fallout of this is a rise in farmer suicides, including five in the last 72 hours, taking the toll to 50 deaths in August alone and 526 in 2012 so far. Report by Yogesh Pawar DNA Newapaper

To those who wonder how the draught in Vidarbha region effects Mumbai, the megalopolis the connection is simple.You see, as a Green Building consultant by profession,I do not have any idea of how to grow grain, pulses or vegetables. Which is laid on the dining table of millions like me. Professionals who only have the power of purchase, but not the skill to survive a single day, should the Farmers perish!  The story is not about a single region but all of rural India which alternates between drought and flood with regular monotony, every year for the past 60 years of Independence ! Water & Food are closely interrelated. And presently it a danger looming large on the face of the civilized World.

Both Drought & Flood are adverse situations, with the potentially destructive power to Kill. The former can suck out the last drop of the precious liquid from any life form by its absence and its over presence can drown and wash away the very existence of civilization.

Global Warming & Climate Change is just about that – the revenge of Water on Civilization. A Civilization which is so callously hurtling itself towards self invited doom, by setting the Global temperature rise by 3.5°C. created by the high-carbon life-style of the Peoples. And it is well understood by the Government of India, which has a detailed study on linking climate change & drought.

It is therefore important for Cities around the Globe to adapt and if still possible mitigate the apocalypse. And among many measures, some of the best are those which the C40 Cities program present ( Mumbai & Delhi are signatories ). Each city in the C40 is unique in its infrastructure and progress in addressing climate change. To the uninitiated; C40 works to empower cities to connect with each other and share technical expertise on best practices. C40 is a network of the world’s mega-cities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. With a unique set of assets, the C40 works with participating cities to address climate risks and impacts locally and globally.

We all are aware of the Mumbai Floods of 26th July 2005. There were severe drought in parts of India between the period 2002-2005. Large tracts of India are prone to droughts. 68 percent of India’s land mass is drought-prone to varying degrees, of which about 50 percent is chronically drought-prone. As per Government of India’s estimate, there are one or two years of droughts every five years in semi-arid and arid regions of India.

If one reads the report on Mumbai water requirement, it would be adequately clear that as the City expands the fresh-water requirement of the city is going to be woe-fully short. While I have commented on water in my earlier article Green Business Ideas – Sell water at the price of petrol – and reap the ‘fringe’ benefits.The idea there was to increase the conservation of water in Rural India.  Now, as the Nation grows, the existing Cities would be under tremendous strain to expand and accommodate, while the second tier cities and towns would be looked at by policy makers to develop as alternate destination to over saturated Megalopolis.  And when we speak of development, in terms of Cities we are talking of expanding the foot-print of the Urban Concrete Jungle. To understand the situation below is a report.

A World Bank report says –  Temperatures have soared in India this summer. The scanty monsoon rains have been unable to replenish reservoirs or recharge diminishing groundwater. Much of the country is reeling under acute water shortages. In water-starved cities like Delhi, those who can afford it pay large sums to private suppliers to fill up household tanks. India’s burgeoning cities, already bursting at the seams, are struggling to provide their residents with basic services. No Indian city receives piped water 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Raw sewage often overflows into open drains, polluting ponds, rivers, and groundwater. Although cities like Delhi receive with 220 liters of water per person per day – much more than Paris, for instance – some 40-70% of this water is lost due to physical and financial leakages.  Consumers bear the brunt of these inefficiencies……There is a clear need to revamp the system. No time can be lost, as India is in the throes of an unprecedented urbanization, the second in the world after China, with a further 10 million people expected to move into the urban areas each year. …… There is a growing realization that creating infrastructure alone will not solve the problem; the management of urban water supply services will also need to be addressed to arrive at a sustainable solution.

The C40 City program, water sustainability has been in the agenda, with some great ideas on containing waste, the case study of Emfuleni, South Africa is a interesting read.

In this article, we shall explore some unusual ways to save the most precious and limited resource – Water. Especially in the Urban setting of Mumbai. My suggestion would be to look at Water a little more closely and with a different perspective. I hope the idea would also be able to attract some thought for the future cities the world is building to house the incoming horde of 9 Million humans by 2050.

Every mega-city which is built has a net-work of services, and among the various services, is the storm water drain. Ideally the town-planners design the drain to discharge the water into the sea, or river.

Ideally there should not have been any human induced Climate Change and Water Crises!

Now that we have established the situation to be dire, how about channelling the storm water back into the under-ground reservoirs?

Aug 9, 2010, DNA Newspaper report –

Geologists expressed serious concern over the unregulated withdrawal of groundwater.

“Indiscriminate and unplanned extraction of groundwater could lead to wells yielding saline water for some time and then drying up,” V Subramanyan, a former geology professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), said. “Even the surface streams may lose their water.” It was imperative, said Subramanyan, for a coastal city like Mumbai to retain the state of already existing equilibrium between freshwater and saline water. “Excessive pumping of wells or heavy withdrawal of water through several wells located near each other can disturb this balance,” Subramanyan said. “In either case, the underlying saline water encroaches upon the fresh water column and contaminates it.” SK Gupta, former deputy director of groundwater survey and development agency (GSDA), Konkan Region, said it was important to improve the groundwater levels through rainwater harvesting. Gupta said that preference should be given to ring wells instead of borewells to improve the quality of groundwater. Subramanyan said that recharge ponds should be built to tackle the crisis……

Imagine building a new City where  a network of pipes would be laid, in such a fashion that the surface run-off  ( as in Rainwater Harvesting )  or the excess water which falls on to the streets, pavements and other public places, get collected through a net work of drainage system which instead of discharging the fresh water right back into the sea or river gets collected at the city fringe into artificial lakes  or holding ponds, which then percolates deep into the water table below. The world over fracking is being done in search of gas, for once we can use the technology to replenish ground water and re-charge dried out water table. And this fracking along with holding ponds perhaps can be created around and in the low lying areas of some of the existing cities too, to a certain extent, to stem off emergency situations.

Let’s take the case of Mumbai, the pace in which unplanned Urban development is happening; thanks to a few corrupt builder- politician-bureaucrat nexus. If disaster strikes, either natural or man-made most of Mumbai is not geared in any  manner to bear a long haul situation. What would happen if  we have an earth-quake and the water-pipelines which are feeding Mumbai with water, rupture extensively and compounded with massive sedimentation of the feeder lakes, which may render the waters temporarily harmful for consumption?  In such a situation Mumbai would face unprecedented water crisis.

And the beauty of official apathy and ignorance of the Political class can’t be better summed up than the following report  on the same subject on Aug 12, 2010 DNA News report

….. The water table in south Mumbai is shallow. A rainfall above 500mm is sufficient to fill it to capacity,” Gupta said. The area has already seen rainfall in excess of 2,200mm. “The additional water received in the form of rain is being rejected by the ground. This is causing the run-off,” Gupta added…. The hydraulic department, meanwhile, has begun planning ways to stem the surface run-off. “We will have to ensure that the ground water table declines,” a senior engineer said. One of the measures being discussed is digging an open well near Metro Cinema. “This will help extract 50,000 litres of groundwater daily. As the water table decreases, the aquifer will begin accepting rainwater again,” the engineer said…..

That there was ground-water reject also inversely means that, when there is scant rain-fall the water table gets dry. Therefore as Climate change would be bringing in more drought than rain-fall, the posh South Mumbai, would need to depend on the water being pumped from the lakes 100KM away from Mumbai. Therefore we must think of ideas to recharge and also divert the excess, from the South to the North of the City where water crisis is an everyday struggle. And also create holding ponds, which not only would beautify the city but perhaps assuage  Mumbai by feeding water from within the city limits. And in one brilliant stroke give the villages around the six lakes the first right of use of the water. (Six lakes in and around Mumbai supply water to the city.) Which is dined to them to quench the insatiable needs of Mumbai.

The thought is there, the process are known. It is the implementation that matters. As an old proverb goes – ” A stitch in time saves nine”; so would action taken on ground in an immediate basis would perhaps save many a City from civil commotion in the absence of  Water in the future.

Because, water is saviour when respected but extracts a terrible vengeance if mocked.

Courtesy: ,,,



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