Oct 02 - A few metres and thirsty already

Dec 04, 2018, It’s all about fresh water

Slow Boat Down the Ganges Update 53

Oct 02 - A few metres and thirsty already

A couple of decades ago, bottled water came to India. I was living in Delhi then (as now), and was convinced that this new product was meant for all those inbound tourists, afraid of coming down with Delhi Belly, a notorious condition of an upset tummy, brought on by bad water and spicy food. Almost everyone I spoke to about this, agreed that no right minded Indian would ever pay to buy a bottle of drinking water.

Don’t get me wrong. Tap water was not potable. In almost every house, drinking water was achieved after conscious boiling of tap water. In other houses, alum was immersed in a earthenware pot. Reverse Osmosis machines were unheard of. No, Indians were survivors and would never buy water to drink.

That was then and today we realise how wrong we all were!

Let us look at water in the world, and the water cycle. In fact, thanks to the water cycle, the total amount of water on Earth has remained constant ever since the Big Bang (or whatever phenomenon) created this planet. The Sun heats up liquid water, that rises up as vapour, forms clouds, and comes back to Earth as rain, snow, sleet, etc. Water, in its various forms, remains constant.

There are essentially two kinds of liquid water ... salt water and fresh water. In the transition zone there is brackish water, but that is a fairly small amount in comparison to the total volume.

Planet Earth essentially comprises water. 71% of the Earth’s surface is water ... in the oceans and seas, rivers, ponds, lakes, glaciers, etc. 96.5% of all water is in the oceans and seas ... salt water and not fit to drink by humans. Only 0.0067% is fresh water, in rivers, lakes, ponds, and glaciers. The rest of the water is vapour, represented by moisture in the air, clouds, etc.

Let us put things in perspective. Let us take all the liquid water on Earth and divide it into multiple equally distributed portions. Let us assume that we fill up individual glasses with all the water on Earth. Once finished, all the water in the world will be in 150 million glasses.


If we take India into this equation, less than 1% of this one glass flows through the subcontinent.

Just stop reading for a moment, and soak in this terrifying reality.

What has changed? The amount of water has remained the same for many millennia. Well, two things have changed. The number of humans on Earth, vying for a share of this finite volume of drinking water. And the second thing that has changed is the fact that the fresh water is fast getting contaminated and becoming unfit for consumption.

Two hundred years ago, there were less than one billion humans living on Earth. According to calculations by the United Nations, there are over seven billion humans today. Estimates suggest that today’s population is roughly 6.9% of the total number of people ever born!

1803 was the year when the world population first crossed a billion people. It took 124 years to reach two billion. However, the third billion was reached in the next 33 years, the fourth billion in the next fifteen. The fastest growth occurred between 1975 and 2011, taking only 12 years each to increase the population by an additional billion ... for the fifth, sixth and seventh.
The population is expected to cross eight billion by 2024, and nine billion by 2038. The magic figure of ten billion will be crossed by 2056. I have not done any research beyond this, since most of us expect to be alive and well by the year 2056 when we can “celebrate” the milestone of living among ten billion co-inhabitants in this little blue marble, the third rock from the Sun, Planet Earth.

Sure, this is the only home we have, where will we go? But imagine, the 150 million glasses of liquid water on Earth is not going up at all, and all of us ten billion people will be fighting for a share of that one glass of water that is good to drink.

Without realising the long term consequence of population rise and the consequent demand on water, we as a collective community are hell bent on contaminating, polluting and destroying the little bit of fresh water there is.

I have long held the belief that the next great war will not be over the control of oil or minerals or even territory, unless the territory has substantial reserves of fresh water. The next big war will be for the control of water.

Indications of such an event are already prevalent in many parts of the world. There are major diplomatic skirmishes between countries, and even within regions of a country, over the justified sharing of water and the construction of dams. The Farakka dam on the river Ganges is a constant bone of contention between India and Bangladesh ever since its construction was completed in 1975. Its construction was started in 1961 when Bangladesh as a country was not established and was still known as East Pakistan.

A SLOW BOAT DOWN THE GANGES is attempting to raise awareness about pollution on the Ganges. But the larger issue that has to be understood is that of the limited and finite resource that the Ganges represents ... fresh water. Its water is used for drinking bathing, washing clothes, irrigation, generating electricity. Nearly half a billion people living in the Ganges basin depend on it, in one form or the other, regardless of caste, creed, religion, gender, age, or social status.

We have to protect the Ganges from further contamination. This is in the immediate term and should be undertaken on a war footing. The long term solution is to reduce the number of people dependent on her waters. That can only be achieved through lowering the population dependent on her. India will soon become the most populous nation in the world, and unfortunately, the problem is only likely to increase, not decrease. But we need to realise the fact that water is a finite resource, fresh water is a very small amount of that finite resource, and we Indian have control of less than 1% of that limited resource.

Do raise this reality among your friends, relations and acquaintances. Do whatever is in your power to appraise people to keep fresh water clean, and to conserve water however they can. Only when we have to carry water a couple of miles from where it is available, to our home, will we realise the importance of every drop that we might spill on the journey back.

Let us keep not only the Ganges clean, but all our rivers and streams and lakes and ponds. Together we have to do it. And together we can. Individually we can make a difference, but collectively we can create an impact. Let us together create that impact.

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