A few months ago, I was invited to a media workshop on water organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The idea was to facilitate a frank dialogue between reporters and water experts on India's current water crisis and what could be done about it. We were seized by the gravity of the crisis.
The symptoms of unrequited thirst were there for all to see and suffer: There are falling groundwater levels as people dig deeper in desperate search for more water; a flourishing water-market, mainly water tankers and bottled water, which too often gets its supplies from borewells in the farmlands located around the city; lastly, the increasing poisoning of groundwater by industrial, agricultural and municipal wastes, not to mention the naturally occurring dangerous chemicals like nitrates and fluorides in groundwater, which threaten to spiral into major public health disaster.
Pollution and excessive extraction apart, inequitable access to this most fundamental resource makes the problem especially egregious. While the rich can afford to spend huge amounts of money to set up borewells, install expensive water-purifying machines, or simply live on bottled water on a daily basis, the poor suffer scandalous indignities for lack of safe and clean water.
Lest it seem like propaganda of its vested interests, ADB had chosen speakers such that a wide spectrum of views was represented. So while the ADB consultant argued in favor of treating water as an economic good, a former bureaucrat-turned-academic tried to demonstrate that this position was fundamentally incompatible with the more laudable goal of equity. Likewise, a grassroots activist, who fervently believed in traditional water harvesting systems as the solution to India's rural water problems, crossed swords with a technocrat who appeared convinced that mega water projects were the long-term answer to India's water woes.
Journalists and the Water Debate …