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A ‘time-lapse’ view of the water wars, in Bangalore (and soon, the world)


Yesterday, with protests over the Cauvery water dispute bringing Bangalore to its knees, many of the city’s techno-optimists found themselves stranded on its burning roads, like bunnies caught in headlights. It might just be another sign that ‘life as we know it’ is about to change forever, both in India and the world, writes Vijay Kundaji.

Vijay Kundaji

I am not sure where each of you is, in your own reading and assessment of the situation, but I am now more or less convinced that life as we ‘know’ it, both here in ever ’emerging’ India, and worldwide, is going to change very rapidly in an unprecedented direction – and very possibly we will all experience this directly in our own lifetimes.

Natural resource degradation, contamination and depletion through human over-exploitation – that is, by our ever growing and consuming population – plus climate change, are going to completely redefine our lives and that of our kids. We can remain ostrich-like and convince ourselves that derivatives traders, financiers and technologists will keep the ‘economy’ – as we have been brainwashed into understanding it – afloat and will keep providing endless ‘returns’ on paper money through this idea of compound interest. But, the distress in the natural world today is too immense – and too real – that it is about to breach all our lives and assumptions.

From my chance vantage point, closely observing a small 3-acre piece of land near Thally in the penumbra of Bangalore and industrial Hosur, I have literally seen with my own eyes the degradation of the ecosystem and how water has vanished. If I had a time lapse movie made out of it (and speed-run 20 years of visuals in a few minutes), you would see verdant landscapes, pale in front of your eyes and eventually go brown, scores of lakes brimming with water shrink to a pond first, and then become a dry bed, and borewells that were on average 70 to 100 feet deep, go dry today at 1500 feet. Plastic and industrial trash blows around in the wind on what was once food-yielding agricultural land and is now essentially waste land waiting for an Audi-seeking, dream-peddling real estate developer to snatch it up. Paddy fields below the bunds of abundant lakes now sound like historic fiction and food crop agriculture has been decimated and replaced by a scrappy brand of greenhouse, cash-crop farming by those with the capital to sink multiple 1500 foot borewells and suck what remains dry to convert it into money.

For millennia, the population in that area had been self-sustaining in all resources and especially in water. But, two years ago, after it was clear that the water was vanishing in the area, all the villages in the Thally area were put on ‘the grid’ and connected to a pipeline from the Cauvery via the highly controversial Hogenakkal water project. (We have a water reservoir just outside our piece of land – although we don’t get any of that water ourselves).

So what becomes of the Cauvery now? And even if the Gods are kind and somehow the monsoon switches back on, then in the days and years ahead? Where will those highly contested “cusecs” come from? Is some smart technologist going to invent them in a glass and concrete building with VC money?

I am sorry – but things are truly grim.  And 1 out of 6 humans in the world is crammed into the political boundaries of India.

Elsewhere the tides are rising (coastal erosion from Saurashtra all the way around to the Sundarbans), coasts are churning and rivers flooding (see Bihar/UP/Assam, N. Karnataka, Maharashtra and the wild fluctuations from conditions of drought to floods in a few weeks), while glaciers are receding rapidly in the Himalayas (as is happening worldwide).

The ‘comforting notion’ that some smart people sitting somewhere will solve all this with the help of technology, friends, is just that … a notion.  It’s not happening.  A lot of our problems have, in fact, been created by our resource gobbling and energy crazy, carbon heavy way of life.  We are hurtling as humans towards the irreversible 2 degree temperature rise when ‘climate change’ will hit a new trajectory (The Paris climate talks, etc if you read about them, were a joke).

I’ll stop my diatribe.  And fervently hope that my angst is completely misplaced.  Even though my own experience suggests otherwise.  I hope to be an ostrich (“Je suis une autruche” – to use a meme that got popular in a different, distressing context !)

The author is a repentant, part time tech worker, co-manages a small organic farm and blogs occasionally at Bangalore Notes 

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India’s looming water wars can destroy everything, from Make in India to smart cities
Quartz India
Nikhil Inamdar writes: India has the world’s largest number of people without access to clean water. The financial burden of this has fallen on its poorest agrarian communities, but the crisis is now spilling over to industries too. In Marathwada, the tanker business is the only one booming. The rest of the economy has collapsed.

Red alert: India’s technology capital headed for system failure
Current Science
Recent research by IISc reveals startling numbers on Bangalore’s reckless urbanization and its consequences: during 1973–2016 (1005% concretization or increase of paved surface) has had a telling influence on the natural resources, such as decline in green spaces (88% decline in vegetation), wetlands (79% decline), higher air pollutants and a sharp decline in groundwater table. (Related: The dying gulmohars of Bangalore and urban India’s forbidding future)

India’s perfect storm: Environmental and demographic stresses building up
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Kanti Bajpai writes: India’s water crisis is a clear sign that a storm of epic proportions is on its way. India’s per capita water availability is now below the threshold level of 1,400 cubic metres per person. If so, India is heading from ‘water stress’ to ‘water scarcity’ and the possibility of internal water wars.

Hopium economics and the madness of infinite growth on a finite planet
The Times of India
Investment banker turned author Satyajit Das writes: Policy makers have sold the future for a precarious, short-lived stability. There is a striking similarity between the problems of the financial system, irreversible climate change and shortages of vital resources like oil, food and water… The world is remarkably unprepared for the crisis that is unfolding.

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