Last year NASA released a map that should be a wakeup call for each one of us.
“You are,” it screamed across patches of warning-red spanning all of India, “consuming way more than the natural recharge rate of aquifers. Beware, your water reserves are running out.”
India extracts more groundwater than any other country in the world. Runner-up China uses just half the amount India does. Further, our water is grossly contaminated in many places — and that toxic brew is what a large percentage of our population consumes every day.
The trend can spell death for a country that depends heavily on agriculture, and has grand plans for its cities. Bangalore is both test case and cautionary tale. It is listed in AT Kearney’s Global Cities Index 2015 as one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It is also the one facing the biggest hurdles: It has no major river running through it; the majority of its 800 lakes have become bus stands, industrial complexes and soccer stadiums, and those that remain are holding pens of industrial sewage.
Half the water Bangalore consumes is mined from underground. 400,000 borewells — likely more than any other Indian city — belch up our daily water supply and with each opening of our taps, the water table sinks further. The other half of Bangalore’s water is pumped, at great expense, across a distance of 100 km from the nearest major river, the Cauvery.
Bangalore has the most expensive — and most heavily subsidised — water in India. And yet, demand constantly outstrips supply as the city shoots concrete blocks ever higher, across an ever-increasing sprawl, while the government plans more satellite towns and industrial hubs.
This dangerous game is symptomatic of India’s boneheaded commitment to mindless growth.
So what are the implications for the Cauvery basin, and for the city of Bangalore itself? How will our insatiable thirst impact the riverine ecosystem? How long will our water support us?
Over the next few weeks and months, I will criss-cross the Cauvery basin, and creep under the skin of Bangalore, to document this tenuous relationship between water and urban man — and through this prism, examine the implications across all of our burgeoning towns and cities.