India. Water. Do we have a problem? Yes. Can we something? Yes.

Canon Rebel 200Ground water levels have been falling continuously in many parts of the country.

The first question to ask is are we taking water from the groundwater (aquifer) in a safe way — in a way that allows it to recharge. In many parts of the country, the answer is “No”.

Groundwater India 2016

The second question is the groundwater levels themselves:…

In many places, groundwater levels are falling — especially in places like Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, where alternate sources of water are scarce.

To add to this problem, in many places, rainfall patterns are changing, most probably because of the warming climate. Shown below is the hundred year rainfall of Madurai. Annual rain received started falling about 30 years ago, and has kept falling since then.

Madurai Rainfall 100 years

OK. So we have a big problem.

Is there a solution?


Countries with much less rain than us, export water — namely, Israel.

So there is a solution available today.

How do they do it?

They treat their sewage to such an extent, that the quality becomes almost good as fresh water. They then use it to irrigate their crops through drip irrigation.

Many places in India have used traditional methods such as check dams, farm ponds and bunds to conserve their rainwater.

There are methods to prevent evaporation from ponds and lakes.

But do you see a problem in adopting this to the Indian context?

Collecting sewage, treating sewage, using pipes to take it to agricultural regions, using drips all cost money. Building check dams, farm ponds and bunds take labour and maintenance — it costs money. Today, farmers get the power to run their pumps for free. Ground water is free.

Cities routinely lose more than half their municipal water to leaks.

In my house, until we installed meters on each tap, we found we were hugely inefficient in our water. Ditto for our farm. We reduced pressure, arrested leaks and reduced the number of hours we watered our plants. This has helped bring down our water use by 40–80%.

Again, meters, people to monitor the meters and take action all cost money.

In cities, there is an additional problem – the water tanker mafia. Many of us pay substantial prices – about Rs. 1-1.5 per litre for “drinking water” and less for more substandard water. This lobby prevents progress because they rake in huge sums in supply. They exist because municipal supply is so bad. Municipal supply is bad because we pay too little for it and because believe we cannot question its functioning.

Both of these have to change, if we need to make progress.

We need an universal price for water. Universal in that all users must be charged. But all users need not be charged the same price. Until and unless we charge a price for water — all water and for all users — there is no solution for this.

Milk and Water

The role of milk and its corollary, beef in the demand of water in India.

There have been beef bans across the country in India. However, the appreciation

of the fact that beef remains a natural corollary of milk is not forthcoming.

Further, the pernicious role played by livestock in depleting groundwater resources

in India is highlighted in this article.

The next set of articles on Climate Change

The climate change problem can be analysed using the prisoner’s dilemma game. This is because there are winners as well as different types of losers in the warming world. My take:

But Europe is doing something very interesting indeed to impact the outcome:

Based on this, I believe action, quick and meaningful action on the changing climate is unlikely. Given this, I believe India should focus its efforts on adaptation.

Impacts of Climate Change

Imagine 6 kids in a group with a cake to share. The ring leader is older, stronger and eats more of the cake. The others know that equality dictates they should get equal shares, or at least shares depending on their sizes but lack the strength to back up feeble words of protests. Now imagine this cake to be a magic cake – those who eat it are offered a special protection,  but those who don’t suffer when night falls, while the very action of eating the cake makes the monsters come out at night.

Eating  cake cartoon

This not-very-elegant analogy is what the climate change puzzle is like.

The climate is changing with the harshest impacts – varying rainfall resulting in floods and droughts, harsh summers, falling agricultural productivity – hitting the poor in the tropics the hardest. They also are the least equipped to handle them – either in technology or just sheer holding power.

The climate is changing because the stock of CO2 in the atmosphere has gone up – because developed countries in the course of their development have caused CO2 to go up. Countries like the US, Canada or those in the European Union are protected from the worst fallout of climate change by their very location. Moreover, their fossil fuel-powered economic development has built technological and economic shields to protect them from pest-attacks, storm surges and errant rainfall.

Let’s delve in a little more.

Plants and animals (and indeed humans!) have an optimal temperature range in which they function best. As the climate warms, growing seasons in the colder north increase – they start a little sooner and end a little later. And the now warmer climate, makes the productivity a little more. While in the already hot tropics, plants can’t take the increased heat in the summer so their yield falls. The broad brushstrokes suggest a fall in yield of cereals in the tropics and a rise in temperate climes. The nuanced view includes water scarcity, pest migration, ecosystem disruption – these in some cases worsen the yield picture for the tropics, and in some cases just cloud the picture.

Fish begin to move to cooler climes – meaning losses for fishermen in India and gain for fisherman in Canada. Take the graphic below – while in the subtropics, cold water fish populations are slowly replaced by warm water fish, in the tropics, it has become too hot for many fish altogether, resulting in lower populations.

Fish migration patterns climate change

Another impact of climate change is that as the Earth warms, ice and snow that could exist in previously cooler climes now melt. This enters the sea increasing its level. Warmer water in the oceans also cause the oceans to expand, further increasing their level. Consider the figure below again from the guardian. You can see the number of people affected by rising seas is disproportionately in Asia – partly because of their large populations, but also because many more of them live within 5 m of the sea than elsewhere.

Sea level rise vulnerability


Understandably then, the group of small island nations have been among st the strongest protesters against climate change. As the science becomes clearer, developing countries have become more open to putting curbs on their emissions (something they were resistant to earlier), and developed nations are becoming more recalcitrant.

Daily Reading – 27/09/14

Read this: great interactive map on several issues on climate change: whose affected, who contributed the most to cumulative CO2 emissions, who has the money etc. One thing stands out: the US has one of the highest CO2 emissions (both cumulative and current) and is least vulnerable. So what’s the incentive to change?

Still: the cost of not acting is substantial for the US; two great reports from respected sources. This article gives the background:

Comprehensive look at what China is doing (and not doing) on Climate Change:

Increasing CO2 makes a hidden hunger problem worse; Increasing CO2 concentrations in the air makes crops store less nutrients like zinc in themselves, making the nutrition problem worse for persons eating those crops. Particularly affected are people in developing countries who don’t take nutritional supplements. (Abstract only; full article worthwhile to buy if interested)