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Water Crises: Social Cost


Cape Town, one of the global tourist hotspots in South Africa, has been in the news for its dreaded “day zero,” signifying the possibility of taps running out of water. However, the consequences go beyond the realm of water. The unprecedented crisis has intensified the debate and discussion on race in the rainbow nation. This unfolding crisis has a special message for an unequal and diverse society like India. Against the United Nations’ accepted benchmark of 1,750 cubic metres per person per year, according to the latest census, in India the per capita availability of water is 1,545 cubic metres. This means India is already a water-stressed nation. Research has underlined that absence of water in a particular location disturbs the political economy of the state, unleashing fissures in social relations.

As privilege and wealth is historically associated with white Afrikaners, the predominantly black South Africans feel that the crisis has affected them disproportionately. As a result, debates over racial injustices have reignited. Unlike South Africa, where race is a major fault line, India has numerous conceivable divergences. Any further stress on water has the potential to deepen and broaden fissures across castes, religions, regions, and social and political units.

About 71% of the available water resources are located in 36% of the geographical areas of the country; thus, large parts of India remain dry. Over the years, water allocation disputes have been going on over the Satluj–Yamuna link canal between Haryana and Punjab; the Cauvery between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka; the Mahanadi between Odisha and Chhattisgarh; and the Mahadayi between Karnataka and Goa.

Every summer, newspapers are replete with stories of fights breaking out between people in queue for water, sometimes of fisticuffs ending in fatality. Though violence or crime is reported regularly, the underpinning issue of the crimes are not systematically pursued or examined. For the administration to make a separate category of violence related to water is a bit far-fetched. Either way, we do not have documentations of water-related violence in governance narratives.

Further, with climate change’s presence being felt stronger each year with erratic weather patterns, it is going to be a big task to manage with less water, more hot weather and aspiring Indians increasingly using water-guzzling home appliances. More tragically, inequities will lead to many social explosions instigated further by water stress. Are governments and societies skilled enough to deal with these? These are important concerns for now and the coming times.

Punam Pandey


Updated On : 13th Apr, 2018


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