This article originally appeared on VICE India
As various reports show India approaching ‘Day Zero’ (the day when a place’s taps dry out and people have to stand in line to collect a daily quota of water), a top Indian expert has warned that Indians may soon become “water refugees” who’ll migrate to water-rich European countries. Rajendra Singh, a Magsaysay-winning conservationist and environmentalist, and popularly known as the “Waterman of India”, made this statement at the recently-concluded Stockholm International Water Institute.
India is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, with almost 50 percent of the country facing drought-like situation. In fact, 21 major Indian cities will start running out of groundwater by next year, affecting millions. But Singh adds that as more than 70 percent of aquifers in India dry up, people are going to start migrating westwards unless we fix it. He compared the situation to parched regions in Africa and Asia, from where people have migrated to European states and precipitated political crisis among and within the EU states. He also added that this may disturb the harmony of the world.
“In India, such migration is taking place from villages to cities. However, the current water crisis may lead to such climatic migration in the future to other countries,” he told The Press Trust of India. In fact, in India, a March 2019 report by the World Resources Institute has warned that the climate change impact will be considerable because of its large population—at 1.37 billion as of September 18—depending heavily on environment-sensitive sectors such as agriculture. “These factors make adaptation critical,” says the report.
Reports have also shown India is facing horrible droughts and floods, both at the same time. “This deadly combination of floods and droughts cannot be tackled by providing piped water but only through community-driven water management,” said Singh. “The responsibility of providing water to everyone can only be fulfilled if the government collaborates with people at the ground level rather than handing over the work to contractors, whose only interest is to earn benefits or profits.”
However, even though it seems like much is lost, Singh says things can still be fixed. One could be to discontinue the use of mechanised herbicides and pesticides, which are messing with the water aquifer system. Other ways to salvage the crisis, he said, would be to develop water harvesting systems to protect our reservoirs from drying up in the sun. This way, the country can develop reserve banks of water even when there’s a drought-like situation. He also stressed on indigenous methods of water management, designed by the local people.
But with the statistics suggesting much is lost, it’s safe to say that India is running out of time. “In fact, we have lost all the time to act,” said Singh. "A country whose 70 percent aquifers are dry has no time left.”
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