Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Water as a common good

Water as a common good

The debate on whether water should be a free resource or be subject to market mechanisms is an immensely interesting one. Many scholars have advocated that water pricing is the solution to scarcity, I am no expert in the field of water resources, but in my present visits to Budheda and Sadhrana peri urban villages, it has come across that over exploitation of groundwater is a major problem. In our country, ground water rights are attached to land. This gives us the right to extract water at will, given we have the technology to do it.  Our Prime Minister Shri Manmohan Singh echoes the thought that India is increasingly going to suffer from water scarcity due to the over exploitation of ground water. He feels that extremely subsidized electricity is the main cause for depletion. He feels that water pricing will lead to water being treated as a common property resource and improve its usage. Our constitution guarantees right to life, sufficient water is a pre-requisite for fulfilling right to life. Pricing of water  may exclude the extremely poor from accessing water and thus cannot be an effective solution from the rights perspective .

Keeping these perspectives in mind, I tried to gauge people’s responses in Peri-urban villages in Sadhrana and Budheda on their views of water pricing. A person I met said that, peoples whose borings in the fields get spoilt cannot access groundwater at all, it’s better to price it, than to completely ban its usage. Further the thought that kept echoing was that “ pakki road pani nahi peeti” ( concrete roads do not let the water seep in) . People said that with further development, the amount of water that reaches the soil is diminishing. A few said that water extraction should be priced for cities and industries, we are farmers, and we can even do without fertilizers, but at least need water. Some said that pricing water usage would be absurd , we still have to pay electricity costs for extracting water, further costs will just add up to our burden.
One day as I was going back from the village, barely a kilometer away, I saw, extreme water logging, this made me understand exactly what the villagers were saying. Although rainfall is reducing, construction that will allow water to seep in, or flow into the fields might be a considerable solution.  The solution although seems elementary, but then most problems can get solved by applying common sense or so I believe.

[1] Water logging in the peri-urban villages in gurgaon.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Water and Food Security: Key Agenda of the World Water Week 2012

 “There is no food security without water security”, quoted Jose Graziano da Silva, Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at the inaugural session of the World Water Week 2012. The Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) organized ‘World Water Week 2012’ from August, 26-31, in Stockholm, Sweden. This year, about 3000 participants attended this global forum to discuss the key theme: ‘Water and Food Security’ for a hunger free world. Politicians, mayors, scientists, water professionals and leaders of the international organizations from more than 100 nations participated in the discussion sessions, workshops and other events. The main motto was to raise a common voice for ‘water and food security’. In the opening session, Honorable Mohamed Bahaa El Din Sad, Minister for Water and Irrigation, Egypt, and President of the African Minister’s Council on Water (AMCOW) conveyed that food, energy, ecological footprint and various social and economical activities have direct linkages to water resources, and its improper management in a changing climatic scenario makes the future of water and food production highly uncertain. The Honorable Minister also emphasized the need for altering water policies in order to meet the food demand of 9 billion people by 2045. He stressed further on the need for more efficient use of water and improvement in the food production systems.  Even today, while, 900 million people from all over the world suffer from hunger and two billion people face severe health risks from under-nourishment, about 1.5 billion people over-eat and one third of the food is wasted or spoilt. Estimation has shown that demand for food is likely to increase by 70 percent mid of the century, and without intervention, untenable pressure on water resources in many regions will threaten food and water security.

Poster presentation by Uthpal Kumar in the World Water Week 2012.

I got an opportunity to present a poster on “Opportunity and Adverse Impact of Wastewater Reuse in Agriculture in Peri-Urban Areas of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.” I received positive responses from water resources experts, who gave countenance to the understanding that institutional framework for the wastewater reuse system goes a long way, not only in reducing human and environmental risks, but also in formalizing the system for sustainability in food security in urban and peri-urban areas. During the closing session, development partners raised their voice for better co-operation across all societies for water and food security around the globe and requested for more investment funds to increase water use efficiency with the latest technologies that also help in conserving the Mother Earth.  

Follow-up discussion with an Indian Scientist on scope of an institutional framework for waste water reuse for agriculture in the developing countries like India and Bangladesh.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Vulnerability – Agricultural and rainfall aspects.

The last few weeks have been an enriching experience for me. Although, we did have field trips and training in our Masters program at TERI, nothing quite prepares you for the surprises the field throws up at you. These rapport building exercises have helped me understand some aspects of life in Peri Urban areas. The reality of life in such areas is quite contradictory to what I had thought it would be.

I had notions that these areas would be far more developed than traditional villages, although that might be true for certain areas in the village, like the ones which are dominated by the land holding class and have seen a incredible rise in disposable income.

The visit I made to Budheda, gave me a firsthand experience of what vulnerability and uncertainty actually means to the locals in daily life. Budheda, one of our principal study villages, relied on waste water from the Gurgaon waste water canal to irrigate crops.

The irrigation of crops from waste water, although having its own flaws, did allow some respite to the farmers from untimely rainfall.  The waste water supply in the canal has been stopped, and the lack of rainfall this summer isn’t helping the farmers cause either. The perspective of certain people, I spoke to in the field was that this supply should not have been stopped during these months, as this is our main time to grow Bajra.

A person, I met told me, that people who had access to water sowed bajra in the end of June, but I did not, it’s better to be unemployed than to be in debt, he said this because, now in end August it has started to rain more than it should. People without the ability to sow are vulnerable, but even the people who have the initial ability can’t protect themselves from untimely rain.

In Jhanjhrola Khera during early July, people said that “ iss baar toh barish hi nayi hui , Bajra bhi ugana mushkil pad gaya hai” ( It has not rained at all this time, even growing Bajra has become difficult).But now as seen in Budheda , they might be a victim of untimely rain.

Listening, interacting with the villagers, gave me an insight into the neglected shadow of the city.

While, Gurgaon city barely 35 minutes from the village, is pegged to be the millennium city of India, the lands of Jhanjhrola khera, Budheda are totally dependent on rain for agriculture.