It is that time of the year Mumbaikars both dread and await with bated breath. As the parched earth receives its first showers after three long summer months and lifts tired spirits, it doesn’t take long for the cries of joy to soon turn into wails of dismay. Water logging, open sewers flooding the roads, derelict buildings crumbling to debris taking lives and a perplexing stench in the air that remains all through the monsoon months; it isn’t exactly a romantic picture although many convince themselves otherwise. Every year, we in Mumbai dread the thought of a repeat of 26 July 2005 when the city was brought to a standstill after floods disrupted daily lives and killed a 1000 people.
It’s ironic then that with the rains playing such a big role in the lives of Mumbaikars, water shortage should be one of Mumbai’s gravest future concerns. The city currently faces a shortfall of 650 mld of water. The coming years could prove even more difficult as demand increases and sources of fresh water supply dry up due to heavy contamination. In fact reports suggest that most cities in India will face a ‘terrifying water crisis’ by 2020 with the per capita availability of water depleting sharply. A World Bank study ranked Delhi, India’s capital, as the worst performing city when it came to water availability in Asia followed closely by Mumbai coming second.
For India as a whole, this will pose a huge challenge. With 85% of water currently being used for agriculture, the source livelihood of 60% of our population, a further depletion in water supply could gravely jeopardize agri-production and thus put a question mark on the food security of millions of people. What’s more experts also say a water crisis could be a big blow to India’s industrial future and push those already suffering due to lack of safe drinking water into further desperation if a time comes when fresh water has to be imported.
As India rapidly develops and urbanizes, demand for water will escalate beyond our imagination and it is imperative that the government readies an action plan for effective water resource management. Rain water harvesting along with other water conservation methods of course could be one solution given the ample rainfall the country receives. But more importantly what is needed is to urgently halt the mismanagement of water which could soon lead to an urban disaster. A majority of India’s rivers are unfit for drinking as pollution due to sewage and industrial waste disposal have rendered them useless. Therefore it is high time India put in place stringent laws holding those responsible for such gravely irresponsible acts.
Ultimately as the world debates the truth behind the perils of global warming, this is a real problem staring at us in the face, a fact not a supposition to be discussed over the dinner table. The challenge for India is huge; the only thing is it seems absurd and preposterous, especially when it is pouring cats and dogs outside your window.