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Category: Freshwater Trail (page 1 of 2)

How much water do we have?

According to a report in Down To Earth, not enough. India’s reservoirs are 40% deficit and monsoon is retreating.

Availability of water in country’s 91 major reservoirs fell to 95.313 billion cubic metres or 60 per cent of the total storage capacity, as on September 23, according to an official release.

“This storage is 75 per cent of the storage of corresponding period of last year and 77 per cent of storage of average of last ten years,” says the release by the Ministry of Water Resources.

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Khejri: the sacred tree of the desert

It was early on a hot summer day deep in the Thar desert. Chattar Singh — desert shepherd, farmer, my friend and guide — interrupted a deep slurp of chai to point out fruit to me in a far away tree. A wind whispered the boughs low before snapping them back upright sending oblong beans-like fruit into bright green shivers.

Voh dekho peD pe pakii hui saangri hai!”
Look there! That tree is full of ripe saangri.

It was pure love in his voice.

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Who speaks for the Sundarbans?

The 2015 UNEP Champion Of The Earth‬ (Policy Leadership) award has gone to Bangladesh‘s PM Sheikh Hasina.

With a population of 140 million, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populated countries. It is also one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Cyclones, floods and droughts have long been part of the country’s history but they have intensified in recent years. Her vision is to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021 and a developed one by 2041 through implementing environmentally aware policies.

The Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan of 2009 made Bangladesh the first developing country to frame such a coordinated action plan. Bangladesh is also the first country to set up its own Climate Change Trust Fund supported by nearly US$300 million of domestic resources from 2009-2012.

Her government earmarks 6-7 per cent of its annual budget on climate change adaptation.

In addition, the Bangladesh Constitution was amended in 2011 to include protection of the environment and safeguarding natural resources for current and future generations. Prioritized in the constitution along with wetlands and wildlife, the forestry policies initiative by Prime Minister Hasina has provided a natural barrier from some extreme weather events and the country’s forests cover has increased by almost 10 per cent.

Here’s the irony.

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The desert lives again

Not long ago, I got a call from my shepherd-farmer friend in the deep deserts of western Rajasthan.

Kal jordaar baarish hui hai saa. Khadinen bilkul phull! Biprasar, phull! Sab khush hain saa.
(It has rained heavily last night. All the khadins are full. Biprasar (a lake) is full! Everybody is happy.)

He belly-laughed. His voice trembled with thrill. It was infectious.

 

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A boatmaster reads 50 shades of grey

“This is a game of danger and courage,” the boat-master says in Hindi.

Does he mean “… danger and daring?” The word he uses, “saahas”, walks a tightrope between the two meanings.

 We are navigating up the Brahmaputra and the boat-master is reading the river.

The Brahmaputra is a moody river. The path we used in the morning has changed by the evening. Sandbars now rise where water flowed just hours prior. What was deep is now shallow. What was shallow is now deep. With this river, nothing is as it was or as it will be.

The Brahmaputra suffers from short-term memory loss.

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Kaushalya, Joga village

Kaushalya said to me, “do ladkiyan hain toh kya hua?” (So what if I have two girls?)

We sat by a well in the middle of an oasis-field (a khadin) fed by harvested desert rain. As we spoke, Kalpana, her little daughter, pulled water from the well into a child-sized pot and balanced it proudly on her head. She loves bringing water in her own little pot, and insists on accompanying Kaushalya when she is not in school.

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Mr. Jadhav, Jonai Circle, Assam

“I do milk-work,” he said in Hindi with no Assamese accent. “Next time you come to the area, call me. Take my number.” He fished out a tiny 2″x 1″ booklet from his breast pocket. Hunted for the number, showed it to me, reading it upside down in English. Mistaking the 9s for 6s and correcting himself.

“Call me. I will make sure a meal is ready for you. I will feed you well. You must come and eat with me and my family.”

Then this milkman, this Bihari settler Mr. Jadhav, continued on his way, crossing sand and water towards his makeshift home 45 minutes away.

I learned later that he had, not two months ago, lost four out of six cattle, his farmland, and a homestead on the banks of the Brahmaputra to erosion.

Moinuddin, Dibrugarh, Assam

Early one morning, I asked my hotel manager for directions to the fish market. He sent Raju with me to find me a cycle rickshaw. An old man stood, one hand on a rickety blue cycle, at the end of the road. “Twenty rupees,” he said with a smile that revealed three fence-post-like teeth.

I climbed in. And from my perch, watched the inscrutable machinations of serendipity at work.

Moinuddin, once a fisherman, had been pulling rickshaws for 20 years, ever since the river went quiet and the fish disappeared. (Fish catches in this part of the Brahmaputra have fallen 85-90% over the last few decades). He’d watched the city exchange their wild catches for farmed alien species. He’d watched kids of humble fishermen grow up to become fish-barons, their riches feeding on the bland imports.

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A parched Karnataka

It will be a tough dry season ahead for large parts of Karnataka, in southern India. A hundred and thirty-five taluks have received less rainfall than normal, classifying them officially as “drought-hit.” Most of these areas are primarily agrarian and crop losses are yet to be estimated.

The failure of monsoon rains is said to be the worst in forty years.

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Digging up fossil-water

Digging up fossil-water is dangerous water-strategy. NASA & reports from IWMI have sounded out loud on India’s disproportionate dependence on groundwater, using satellite data to mark water-stressed parts of India. We are the world’s largest user of fossil-water (China which comes second uses only half the amount of groundwater we use), using about a quarter of the of the global total, says a World bank report cited in this Times of India article, Can Groundwater Use Be Charged?

There are nearly 5 lakh illegal borewells in just the national capital for extracting groundwater. A National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) study says almost 16% of Delhi’s urban households and 30% of its rural ones don’t have sufficient drinking water throughout the year.

The court passed the order on a PIL filed by Ramesh Ailwadi seeking a direction to governments to price the groundwater resource as is done in the case of water being supplied by local authorities.

“Undergroundwater forms part of natural resources and of which government is the guardian and has the responsibility to ensure that the same is distributed to subserve the common good. It is further the case of the petitioner that wastage of this precious resource by those who have been able to obtain groundwater installations violates Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India,” the petition said.

 

Almost everyday, newspapers are replete with urban centers overdrawing their borewells — and most of this water goes towards construction and industry, leaving residents and the countryside thirsty.

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