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A (not so) Long View of the Water Wars

A personal experience view from the Cauvery Basin area on the Karnataka-TN border

Sep 2016


I am not sure where each of you is, in your own read and assessment of the situation, but I am now more or less convinced that life as we "know" it, both here in ever 'burgeoning' India, and worldwide, is going to change very rapidly in an unprecedented direction - and very possibly we will all experience this directly in our own lifetimes.

Natural resource degradation, depletion and extinction through human over use and our ever growing consuming population plus climate change are going to completely redefine our lives and that of our kids.  We can remain ostrich-like and think derivatives-traders, financiers and technologists will keep the 'economy' - as we have been brainwashed into understanding it - afloat and will keep providing endless 'returns' on paper money through this idea of compound interest - but the distress in the natural world is today, too immense and too real that it is about to breach all our lives and assumptions.

From my chance vantage point closely observing a small 3-acre piece of land near Thally in the penumbra of Bangalore and industrial Hosur - I have literally seen with my own eyes the degradation of the eco-system and how water has vanished.  If I had a time lapse movie made out of it (and speed-run 20 years of visuals in a few minutes)- you would see verdant landscapes, pale in front of your eyes and eventually go brown, scores of lakes brimming with water shrink to a pond and then a dry bed, borewells that were on average 70 to 100 feet deep, go dry today at 1500 feet.  Plastic and industrial trash blowing around in the wind on what was once food-yielding agricultural land and is now essentially waste land waiting for an Audi-seeking, dream-peddling real estate developer to snatch it up.  Paddy fields below the bunds of abundant lakes now sound like historic fiction and food crop agriculture has been decimated and replaced by a scrappy brand of greenhouse, cash-crop farming by those with the capital to sink multiple 1500 foot borewells and suck what remains dry to convert it into money.

Two years ago, after it was clear that the water was vanishing in an area that was self-sustaining over millennia in all resources and especially in water, all the villages in the Thally area were put 'on the grid' - and were connected to a pipeline from the Cauvery via the highly controversial Hogenakkal water project (we have a water reservoir just outside our piece of land - although we don't get that water ourselves).  So what becomes of the Cauvery now?  And even if the Gods are kind and somehow the monsoon switches back on, then in the days and years ahead?  Where will those highly contested "cusecs" come from?  Is some smart technologist going to invent them in a glass and concrete building with VC money?

I am sorry - but things are truly grim.  And 1 out of 6 humans in the world is crammed into the political boundaries of India.

Elsewhere the tides are rising, coasts are churning (coastal erosion from Saurashtra all the way around to the Sundarbans) and rivers flooding (see Bihar/UP/Assam, N. Karnataka, Maharashtra and the wild fluctuations from conditions of drought to floods in a few weeks) while glaciers are receding rapidly in the Himalayas (as is happening worldwide).

The 'comforting notion' that some smart people (sitting somewhere) and technology will solve all this, friends, is just that ... a notion.  It's not happening.  A lot of our problems have, in fact, been created by our resource gobbling and energy crazy, carbon heavy way of life.  We are hurtling as humans towards the irreversible 2 degree temperature rise when 'climate change' will hit a new trajectory (COP-Paris, etc if you read about it, was a joke).

I'll stop my diatribe.  And fervently hope that my angst is completely misplaced.  Even though my own experience suggests otherwise.  I wish to be an ostrich ("Je suis une autruche"- to use a form of clause that got popular in a different, distressing context!)

If any of you are interested in following, participating (or indeed debunking) this kind of dialogue - please visit www.ecologise.in