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Troubled waters, troubling times

chandigarh Updated: Oct 29, 2012 10:25 IST
Manik Ahuja
Manik Ahuja
Hindustan Times
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The other day when I was going out with my mom for the morning walk, I spotted a thirsty crow desperately trying to quench its thirst from a tap that had gone dry.

Anxious, I asked my mom what the crow would do now. It was here that she narrated the story of "The thirsty crow" to me. The story went like this. On a very hot summer day, a crow was feeling very thirsty. He was very sad and disappointed at not getting a drop of water. Then he saw a jug where water was just at the bottom and his beak could not reach such a low level. The crow thought of a plan and picked up the pebbles lying nearby and dropped them into the jug. Slowly, the level of water rose, the crow dipped its beak, quenched its thirst and flew away. The moral of the story: Where there is a will, there is a way.

It was here that my mother turned philosophical and told me that animals and birds had this will, but humans had lost it amidst conflicts, the imminent consequence of these conflicts being that almost half of humanity would face water scarcity by 2030.

Celebrated author Mark Twain had once remarked that "whisky is for drinking; water is for fighting over". A series of reports from intelligence agencies and research groups shows that the prospect of a water war is becoming increasingly real.

Internationally, 780 million people lack access to safe drinking water, according to the United Nations. By 2030, 47% of the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress, according to the Environmental Outlook to 2030 report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Some analysts worry that wars of the future would be fought over water as thirsty people, opportunistic politicians and powerful corporations battle for dwindling resources. With rapid population growth, and increased industrial demand, water withdrawals have tripled over the past 50 years. Of all the water on earth, 97% is salt water, and less than 1% of the planet's drinkable water readily accessible for direct human uses.

Studies conducted by the UN project that 30 nations would face acute water shortage by 2025, up from 20 in 1990. The Middle East is making preparations for the import of drinking water from South America and UAE officials have already visited the glaciers in Chile.

India and Pakistan have already fought against each other three times and find themselves on the verge of a new conflict over water resources. Islamabad accuses Delhi of "water terrorism" over the construction of a hydro-electric plant on the trans-border river. It appears that an acute water deficit may prove a decisive argument for using arms to quench the thirst of millions of people. Water scarcity and potential conflicts arising from it are linked to larger issues of population growth, increasing food prices and global warming.

Alas, the moral of "The thirsty crow" seems to have been lost on us!