Somehow we don’t seem to realise that water is our most precious natural resource. Come to think of it, it’s indeed even more precious than gold since there’s no life without water. Yet we tend to take it for granted, being hardly concerned about its conservation.
Unfortunately, water is one of our rapidly depleting resources whose replenishment is dependent on the monsoon, which has become unreliable in recent years. Despite this one often sees water being wasted through sheer negligence and apathy: leaking or improperly shut public taps, ruptured pipelines and decrepit storage tanks that remain unattended, etc.
Water shortage has plagued us for long. As a boy I recall the long, pre-dawn queues of womenfolk waiting patiently to collect water from public taps — a sight that is still common in many localities, not to mention the frayed tempers and spats these endless waits often spark. We are also all too familiar with the grim summer scenario of tankers rushing water to drought-hit areas, of dried-up wells and vast stretches of parched fields wilting under the scorching Sun with forlorn farmers looking on helplessly. Ominously, even wells and other water bodies that have been perennial sources of water are now running dry. Erratic monsoon leaves many hydroelectric projects with insufficient water for power generation as is happening in Kerala. Interestingly, in the 1960s rain-starved tea plantations in Munnar had even experimented with ‘seeding’ of clouds in a bid to induce rain — without much success.
The importance of rainwater harvesting cannot be overstressed and if implemented collectively, it could help ease the acute water shortage to a great extent. Tamil Nadu is a prominent frontrunner in this regard, having taken the initiative to popularise this concept widely. Other States too could follow its example.
As is well known, diminishing rainfall is in no small measure due to extensive deforestation; the hill-resort of Munnar, a known watershed, vividly exemplifies this. The commercial craze to fell trees must be halted somehow and our forest cover substantially increased at the earliest, for it’s an established fact that forests do induce rainfall.
Given our burgeoning population, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our water resources won’t last forever. Perhaps the day is not far off when we’ll have to rely on prohibitively expensive desalination plants for our supplies of potable water. Maybe a time will come when hotels will charge one for even a glass of water — or for the ‘privilege’ of washing one’s hands before and after a meal. For, despite impressive advances in science and technology, we haven’t been able to produce or duplicate water.
The need to conserve water is more urgent now than ever before. Indeed it may not be far-fetched to surmise that some day in the future aliens from outer space may look for signs of water in an arid and uninhabited earth devastated by drought (or possibly a nuclear holocaust) to ascertain whether it did sustain life at some time — much like what the American space vehicle ‘Curiosity’ is doing on Mars right now!