Source: E-mail dt. 1 August 2011


Can we afford our own future?

-The water crisis and the commodification of the water supply leading to the wars of the next century!! with special reference to India.



Faculty of Marketing, Public Relation Officer, & Placement Officer

Netaji Subhas Institute of Business Management, Jamshedpur


When the planet herself sings to us in our dreams, will we be able to wake ourselves, and act?

Gary Lawless, Earth Prayers from around the World




Water is an essential element of daily life for each and every one of us. Sufficient clean water is essential to everyone’s wellbeing.  We'd like to believe there's an infinite supply of water on the planet. But the assumption is tragically false. Available fresh water amounts to less than one-half of one percent of all the water on earth. The rest is sea water, or is frozen in the polar ice. Due to intensive urbanization, deforestation, water diversion and industrial farming, however, even this small finite source of fresh water is disappearing with the drying of the earth's surface; if present trends persist, the water in all river basins on every continent could steadily be depleted.


Yet nearly 20% of the world’s population does not have ready access to drinking water and 40% lack sanitation facilities.  The vast majority of these people are in developing countries and the United Nations has identified water use as a priority for international aid.  Access to water is now recognized as a key issue in development and therefore will be high on the agenda in the years to come as it is greatly affecting ‘sustainable development’.


What is the total requirement of water for our nation for drinking purposes, sanitation, irrigation and other industrial uses and what the nation gets thru’ seasonal inputs (rain and melting of snow)? One third of our population is affected by floods or drought every year. Per capita availability of water varies from 10 kilo litre to 50 kilo litre for different seasons and regions.  


As the water crisis intensifies, the state as well as central government is under pressure from – the companies in the region who seek a radical solution: the privatization, commodification and mass diversion of water. Proponents say that such a system is the only way to distribute water to the world's thirsty. But, in fact, experience shows that selling water on the open market does not address the needs of poor, thirsty people. On the contrary, privatized water is delivered to those who can pay for it, such as wealthy cities and individuals and water-intensive industries, like agriculture and high-tech.


The push to commodify water comes at a time when the social, political and economic impacts of water scarcity are rapidly becoming a destabilizing force, with water-related conflicts springing up around the country. Meanwhile, the future of one of the earth's most vital resources is being determined by those who profit from its overuse and abuse. Several companies are developing technology whereby large quantities of fresh water would be loaded into huge sealed bags and towed across the ocean for sale. Selling water to the highest bidder will only exacerbate the worst impacts of the water crisis.





            The issue today, put simply, is that while the only renewable source of fresh water is rainfall. Population is increasing day by day whereas the availability of fresh water is decreasing rapidly. Most disturbingly, we are diverting, polluting and depleting that finite source of fresh water at an astonishing rate.


As per United Nations report, by the year 2025, as much as two-thirds of India’s population-predicted to have expanded by an additional 2 billion people- will be living in conditions of serious water shortage and one-third will be living in conditions of absolute water scarcity. World Resources, a publication of the United Nations Environment Program, the World Bank and the World Resources Institute, has a dire warning: " India’s thirst for water is likely to become one of the most pressing resource issues of the 21st century...In some cases, water withdrawals are so high, relative to supply, that surface water supplies are literally shrinking and groundwater reserves are being depleted faster than they can be replenished by precipitation."



As well as creating major environmental problems, overtapping of ground water and rivers is exacerbating another potential crisis - world food security.

Irrigation for crop production claims 65 percent of all water used by humans, compared to 25 percent for industry and 10 percent for households and municipalities. The annual rise in population means that more water is needed every year for grain production (for humans and animals), a highly water-intensive activity. But the India's burgeoning cities and industries are demanding and taking more and more of the water earmarked for agriculture every year. Jharkhand, for example, now projects a serious decline in irrigated lands just as its population is set to explode.


Eventually, some dry areas will not be able to serve both the needs of farming and those of the ballooning cities. If these regions are to meet everyday water requirements, they might have to permanently import all or most of their food. This raises the prospect that lack of water will make some states chronically dependent on others, or on the national community at large.



“The greatest environmental crisis isn’t something that might happen in the future.  It’s something that is happening right now to a third of the India’s people…One of the greatest failures of the last fifty years has been the failure to lay the foundation stones of public health in the developing world—hygiene, sanitation, and water supply.”


In addition to the debate on access to water, there is a parallel debate over improving access to basic sanitation services.   It is estimated that, currently, more than 2 million people lack adequate sanitation across the country. Poor sanitation results in the contamination of water supplies, further depleting scarce water resources, and resulting in millions of water-related illnesses and deaths.  As a result, poor sanitation not only deprives millions of people of health, it also impacts their productivity and condemns them to live in miserable and unhealthy conditions. 

Though access and sanitation go hand-in-hand, sanitation is frequently overlooked in the water debate or is dismissed for being too costly or of ‘secondary importance’ to access. 



“Bottled water, like Kenley, Aquafina, etc are straight-forward targets because they exemplify the final consequence of capitalism:  the disappropriation and profit maximisation of the most pristine sources of life, because water is life, and environmental destruction is for human greed and luxury.  As a consequence, groundwater is being depleted at incredible rates to fill the millions of plastic bottles and cans with which we quench our thirst, leaving behind a massive mountain of rubbish. 


Private corporations claim that the bottled water industry is one of the most successful revenue generating schemes for private corporations.  As water becomes increasingly scarce and as pollution threatens to exacerbate the problem, bottled water is being promoted by corporations as a solution.  In developing countries, however, where bottled water is often more expensive than in developed countries, many reject this proposal, claiming that the provision of an expensive substitute is unacceptable—the solution involves universal access and improved sanitation.



“We have lost fisheries and our vegetable gardens along the riverbanks.  We live in fear and all the time we worry that water from the dam will flood our lands. Sometimes we almost drown.  We want our natural river returned to us.”


Though large-scale hydro-projects came under intense fire in the past for both their effects on local communities and environments as well as for failing to meet their promised benefits, big projects have reappeared on the agenda. 


Environmental and human rights groups, however, are intensely opposed to such large-scale projects.  They cite that millions of people have been displaced from their homes and lands to make way for dams, and argue that the majority of these people, already living in conditions of poverty, have been left further impoverished as a result of being stripped of their traditional livelihoods and resources.  Human rights activists also tend to reject claims that dams will benefit the poorest of the poor by providing them with electricity and present statistics that show that women and Indigenous people tend to suffer most from hydro projects.




            With Jharkhand being announced as drought hit state this year, here is something to cheer about. A Jamshedpur born technocrat based in Australia, Arindam Banerjee, has claimed that he has devised a novel way of solving the scarcity of water in drought-prone areas as well as generating electricity in a pollution-free atmosphere.


The Australian government has favorably received his invention titled ‘The Hydrogen Transmission Network’, which is at the proposal stage. According to Banerjee, clean energy and pure water are the keys not just to progress but also to a sane and happy life. It is much cheaper to build, maintain and install. It has no carbon emission at any stage, has no loss of energy with distance and unlike water pipes, is pilfer-proof. He feels that by converting cheap mass-produced hydrogen (at distance location) into energy and water thru’ engines or fuel cells at the destination n, the state of Jharkhand can fight the impending drought and provide a great deal of employment.

One kg of hydrogen will form nine kg of pure water and a great deal of energy. It sounds promising. The Government of India should invite Arindam Banerjee to construct a suitable roadmap for the Hydrogen Economy in India, which is currently reeling thru’ one of the worst droughts in decades.




For a quarter-century the globalization of the economy and society, characterized by its champions as a “natural” and “inevitable” phenomenon, has been presented as a narrative grounded in four alleged principles:-



In this context, creative, life identity, and even individual survival are all vetted in the arenas of the global competitive markets, whose specific function is to select the “best” products and services, the more “profitable” places for investment, production, and consumption, promising the most “competitive” success.


This vision include these tenets: that water is like all other “things”, a commodity, which as a part of the dominion of the market should obey its rules; and that it is up to the private sector to ensure the “optimal management” of the planet’s water resources in the framework of international service markets.


According to the report of a group of experts directed by Michel Camdessus, former director- general of the International Monetary Foundation, at the request of the World Water Council, the financing of water must obey the principle “you use it, you pay for it” (we are far from the domain of a right to water) and thru’ recourse to the capital markets.


The new International Decade for Action “Water for Life” has adopted as its objective the reduction by half of the number of people without access to potable water. The fundamental question involved here is whether the right to life of billions of human beings can be squared with the prolongation of the present human disaster by another ten years.