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Conserve water, urges Vajpayee

On a rainy Friday reflective of the good monsoons in India this year, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reiterated an appeal he has often made over the past month - that citizens "conserve every drop of water". This is a plea he and the President have made repeatedly in the recent past.

india Updated: Jul 19, 2003 09:48 IST
Indo-Asian News Service
Indo-Asian News Service

On a rainy Friday reflective of the good monsoons in India this year, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee reiterated an appeal he has often made over the past month - that citizens "conserve every drop of water".

Leading dailies carried advertisements quoting Vajpayee as saying: "Let us collectively address the problem of water shortage, which is growing into crisis proportion."

Earlier, Vajpayee had made a similar plea while addressing the scientific community this week.

"India is amongst the wettest countries in the world, yet desert - like conditions are now prevalent in many parts of the country. We are fast plunging into a water emergency era," he said.

To help India emerge from this crisis, Vajpayee has called on citizens to observe July and August as "water months" and step up efforts to clean polluted rivers, lakes and ponds. He has also appealed to scientists to undertake the development of low-cost water technologies.

"We have been working on helping communities through state government-initiated programmes in sourcing of water, supply of portable water, adoption of desalination technologies and removal of contaminants like arsenic and fluorides. We are now initiating further research in viable technologies," D S. Bedi, head of the unit for science dissemination at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), told IANS.

Rainfall in India: India receives an annual precipitation of 4,000 cubic km of rainfall, including snowfall. But the estimated utilisable water resources are only 1,122 cu km, according to the ministry of water resources. Of this, around 690 cu km is available through surface water resources and 432 cu km in ground water resources.

While the government is seeking low-cost water saving, water recycling and water treatment technologies, NGOs feel there is much to be re-learnt from the traditional methods of water conservation and recharging of ground water.

"The fact that the prime minister and the president of the country have been trying to focus attention on conservation of water is a pointer to the seriousness of the situation," said Sumita Dasgupta, coordinator of the nature resources movement at the Centre for Science and Environment.

Reactions: NGOs working in the field of water management feel that proper action should have been taken much earlier, and this "criticality could have been avoided".

Nonetheless, they welcome the awareness building campaign launched by the government.

The miserable state of roads in the Indian capital and several other cities after just a few days of rainfall speaks volumes of the lack of proper action being taken by civic bodies. Despite good rains, water problems persist.

"While the prime minister is trying to focus attention on water conservation, it is hoped that policies that emerge out of this endeavour would have clear elements for community involvement and clear rights for people as stakeholders.

"The authorities need to look at practical elements like cleaning the drains in urban areas if you are going to look at water bodies as flood cushions," said Dasgupta.

Rainwater harvesting: Despite several government programmes and making rainwater harvesting a buzzword, as an NGO official pointed out, "when the rains came there was not enough action on the ground to harness the water".

Stressing the need to involve people in the efforts, agriculture infrastructure expert Bharat Dogra said: "There is need to monitor to what extent the initiatives taken so far have made the difference on the ground. Instead of mere talk, the authorities should take steps to stop fresh encroachment on traditional water tanks and water sources."

Today Alwar in Rajasthan is a telling document of how through people's efforts a river has been revived to bring green prosperity in the desert, point out NGOs.

First Published: Jul 18, 2003 18:03 IST