COVID is ‘Fire Drill’ for the Water Crisis.

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Madiwala lake

I want to take you on a journey of Bangalore, a city I grew up in, heading towards a water crisis and how am I affected by this whole journey.

My father tells me about how Bangalore was known as the city of lakes before it changed to the Garden city. Only recently did Bangalore get recognized as the IT capital of India. At a given point of time, there were more than 300 lakes in Bangalore. The city met its water needs from the Dharmambudi lake, where today a sprawling city bus stand exists. My father shares that like Dharmambudhii, most of the lakes have vanished due to encroachment and unchecked construction activity for the urban infrastructure expansion needs of the city’s booming population. Later on, the city’s water needs were met by the Hessarghatta lake and then followed by the Thippagondanahalli lake. Currently, Bangalore depends on the water from the river Cauvery, which is about 100kms far from the city.

I grew up close to the Madiwala lake, which happens to be the biggest lake in the city today. I am glad that the lake still exists, and let me tell you why. Twenty-six years ago, I was eleven years old. I do not recall much, but I have a moment etched in my memory that I still vividly remember from back then. My father shared that the Madiwala lake would be converted soon to another residential locality and he read this to me from a newspaper article on that day. I was extremely disheartened, as I used to go with my father for a walk around the lake every Sunday morning to enjoy and observe the ducks and the migratory birds there. Fortunately, the welfare association formed by the residents living around the Madiwala lake along with various environmental protection associations such as the forest department came together to protest against the move. All the residents joined hands with the welfare association to do a massive rally to protect the lake. The protest rally gained huge momentum and it even gained the attention of the media back in those days. It was telecasted in the national news on Doordarshan(DD1). There were a large number of events planned as part of the rally. I remember the painting competition for kids since I also took part in it. Eventually, and most importantly, the protest was very successful in terms of the end outcome it was able to achieve. We all protected the lake from being encroached by proactively participating at various levels and with joint efforts. The story of Madiwala lake is a very rare case of the triumph of the environmental consciousness over the many mindless decisions taken in not just Bangalore but across the planet, we call home. For instance the water crisis in Chennai(2019) and the most infamous Day Zero in Cape Town(2017 — When Cape Town ran out of water even for drinking needs).

Climate Change is now a Climate emergency, and it is only worsening the water crisis further — bringing fewer rain days and more intense rainfall events. Amidst all these developments, the Niti Ayog(Indian Govt Think Tank) report says that 40 per cent of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030 (1). While the availability of water is only one part of the story, the other part of the story is about the quality of the water. Even though Bangalore has managed to retain a handful of lakes, none of these lakes has water worthy of consumption and in fact, are poisonous and dangerous. There are many lakes in the city in which the pollution is so high that frothing and fires are common. These fires are caused due to the accumulation of chemicals and various other effluents that are directly released into the water. The state of the quality of water even at a national level is poor and is a matter of national concern today, for example, The river Ganga. The rejuvenation process has been active for decades altogether with little or no progress so far.

As I write this post, humanity is going through the worst crisis ever seen due to the pandemic. Probably even during the world wars these many people may not have been impacted so severely. Being fairly informed about the environment and climate change only makes me more concerned about the challenges humanity will have to further face in the future for not taking the corrective action. I look at COVID and think of it like a fire drill which makes me realise that this is a wake-up call and COVID is a strong indication of what is next to come if we do not make changes now. I believe it is high time for us to get our act together. We must start to reduce water wastage and be conscious of our indirect water footprint every time we buy something from the market. As I come to the end of this post I would like to share a short documentary (3min) with you all, which is focussed on what I believe and work on. It is part of the Evolution of Solutions series by The Better India, in association with Accenture in India, on FluxGen’s Work Towards Building a Water Positive World:

Do share your thoughts as comments (or mail me — to collaborate), on how you would take proactive action towards making sure that water, a finite — shared — resource, is managed most diligently?

Ganesh Shankar (2)

sganesh@alum.iisc.ac.in

(1)https://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/40-of-indians-will-have-no-access-to-drinking-water-by-2030-niti-aayog-118062500074_1.html

(2) Special thanks to my dear student (from CCE IISc), Ashish Anand, for editing the initial draft to the current form. I know it must have been a lot of work for him!

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Sustainable Water Management

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