India prays for rain as the water wars break out

The monsoon is late, the wells are running dry and in the teeming city of Bhopal, water supply is now a deadly issue. Gethin Chamberlain reports
Gethin Chamberlain
THE OBSERVER
Sunday, 12 July 2009
A young man walks across Bhopal’s Upper Lake, which has shrunk to an 8th of its original area.
It was a little after 8pm when the water started flowing through the pipe running beneath the dirt streets of Bhopal’s Sanjay Nagar slum. After days without a drop of water, the Malviya family were the first to reach the hole they had drilled in the pipe, filling what containers they had as quickly as they could. Within minutes, three of them were dead, hacked to death by angry neighbours who accused them of stealing water.
In Bhopal, and across much of northern India, a late monsoon and the driest June for 83 years are exacerbating the effects of a widespread drought and setting neighbour against neighbour in a desperate fight for survival.
India’s vast farming economy is on the verge of crisis. The lack of rain has hit northern areas most, but even in Mumbai, which has experienced heavy rainfall and flooding, authorities were forced to cut the water supply by 30% last week as levels in the lakes serving the city ran perilously low.
Across the country, from Gujarat to Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh, the state that claims to be “the rice bowl of India”, special prayers have been held for more rain after cumulative monsoon season figures fell 43% below average.
On Friday, India’s agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, said the country was facing a drought-like situation that was a “matter for concern”, with serious problems developing in states such as Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
In Bhopal, which bills itself as the City of Lakes, patience is already at breaking point. The largest lake, the 1,000-year-old, man-made Upper Lake, had reduced in size from 38 sq km to 5 sq km by the start of last week.
The population of 1.8 million has been rationed to 30 minutes of water supply every other day since October. That became one day in three as the monsoon failed to materialise. In nearby Indore the ration is half an hour’s supply every seven days.
The UN has warned for many years that water shortages will become one of the most pressing problems on the planet over the coming decades, with one report estimating that four billion people will be affected by 2050. What is happening in India, which has too many people in places where there is not enough water, is a foretaste of what is to come……


In Bhopal, where 100,000 people rely solely on the water tankers that shuttle across the city, fights break out regularly. In the Pushpa Nagar slum, the arrival of the first tanker for two days prompted a frantic scramble, with men jostling women and children in their determination to get to the precious liquid first.
Young men scrambled on to the back of the tanker, jamming green plastic pipes through the hole on the top, passing them down to their wives or mothers waiting on the ground to siphon the water off into whatever they had managed to find: old cooking oil containers were popular, but even paint pots were pressed into service. A few children crawled beneath the tanker in the hope of catching the spillage.
In the Durga Dham slum, where the tanker stops about 100 metres away from a giant water tower built to provide a supply for a more upmarket area nearby, Chand Miya, the local committee chairman, watched a similar scene. There was not enough water to go around, he said. “In the last six years it has been raining much less. The population has increased, but the water supply is the same.”
Every family needed 100 litres a day for drinking, cooking and washing, he said, and people had no idea when the tanker would come again.
Not everyone gets a tanker delivery. The city has 380 registered slums, but there are numerous other shanties where people have to find their own methods. Some, like the Malviyas, tap into the main supply. Others cluster around the ventilation valves for the main pipelines that stick up out of the ground from place to place, trying to catch the small amounts of water leaking out. In the Balveer Nagar slum, 250 families have no supply at all. The women get up in the middle of the night to walk 2km to the nearest pumping station, where someone has removed a couple of bricks from the base to allow a steady flow of water to pour out.
A few communities have received help from non-governmental organisations. In the Arjun Nagar slum, a borewell has been drilled down 115 metres by Water Aid to provide water for 100 families, each paying 40 rupees (50p) a month.
Until the well was drilled, Shaheen Anjum, a mother of four, got up at 2.30am each day to fetch water, wheeling a bike with five or six containers strapped to it to the nearest public pipe in the hope of beating the queues. “Often we would get there and the water would not be running,” she said. “It was so tiring: the children were suffering and getting ill because they had to come too. The tankers used to come, but there were so many fights that the driver used to run away.”
Water Aid is working in 17 of the city’s 380 registered slums, providing water and sanitation. “It’s not just Bhopal. This has been a drought year for many districts,” said Suresh Chandra Jaiswal, the technical officer. “Now it has reached a critical stage. We just don’t know any more how long the water will last.”
Fifty years ago, Bhopal had a population of 100,000; today it is 1.8 million and rising. In a good year the city might get more than a metre of rain between July and September, but last year the figure was only 700mm.
Neighbours of the Malviyas cluster around the hole in the street outside the house where Jeevan Malviya lived with his wife, Gyarasi, their son, Raju, 18, and their four other children. It was the evening of 13 May, said Sunita Bai, a female relative: a local man, Dinu, thought that the family had blocked the pipe to stop the water flowing further down the hill.
He and a group of friends slapped Gyarasi, 35; Raju tried to stop him. Someone produced a sword and, a few minutes later, the Malviyas lay dying. “We were too afraid to do anything,” said a woman who gave her name as Shanno. “Dinu didn’t want them to take any water. He wanted it for himself.”
Everyone stood around, looking down at the hole in the ground. The pipe is dry. “It is a terrible thing, that people should be fighting over water,” said Shanno.
Source: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jul/12/india-water-supply-bhopal Retrieved: July 12, 2009

24 Responses to “India prays for rain as the water wars break out”

  1. vishal says:

    very alarming situation ………..and disturbing too…

  2. Concrete jungle or Woods ?
    WE have to decide.

  3. yayaver says:

    Today, Indian Officials Declare Drought, Worst Water Shortage in Mumbai’s History.Still we are sleeping….
    I am giving you weblink embeded in the name which will give you real position of food, water, agriculture and hunger problem in the India. It was more shocking data about exploitation of resources by MNC’s. I will prefer this blog more than reading your whole account of water shortage.

  4. yayaver says:

    Shekhar Sir, thanks for this story for sharing with us.Today, Indian Officials Declare Drought, Worst Water Shortage in Mumbai’s History.Still we are sleeping….
    I am giving you weblink embeded in the name which will give you real position of food, water, agriculture and hunger problem in the India. It was more shocking data about exploitation of resources by MNC’s. I will prefer this blog more than reading your whole account of water shortage.

  5. worlds largest democracy… marching towards d 22nd century.. stepping into d moon.. nuclear weapons.. commonwealth games but still lacking d basic necessities – water,food, shelter, education, electricity… such a helpless frustrating feeling!!!

  6. You are making a film on this subject arn’t you? Please make one that EVERYONE will want to see, and learn about this life and death issue. This is a mission, not just a film project.

  7. vishal says:

    i wish …..you were able to create “paani” in real life too…………….

  8. Koizen says:

    Why cannot the government of India integrate all the rivers so that there is equal distribution of water?
    Yes…in future, people wont fight for land but water. Today this situation is happening in very small measures but what if China takes it as international issue with India…will we fight with China? For next 20 years, the wars will be fought for water.
    Somebody from government must integrate all the rivers. And it will take time, but it has to start right now.

  9. Koizen says:

    Saw you on TV!
    You are my hero, but was in tears looking at that girl when you told her to dance…
    Nice to see you on TV Shekhar Bhai. You are really a good person. Could not stop my tears.
    They say god is perfect accountant, as far as our karmic deeds are concerned. But despite thinking of this karmic things, for years, I am unable to understand what is the fault of those children who are born with some deformity. God cannot be so cruel.
    In 2004, I went to Tirupati to make a docu on a social ngo where I found that there are hundreds of kids who are born blind. At noon time, the achayaji who also manages Navjeevan trust invited me for lunch with kids, those kids rendered Sanskrit song. I could not understand what they were singing but I suddenly started to cry and did not know that I was loud in crying. After the song got over I asked Acharyaji what is the meaning and he said the kids are thanking god but also at the same time telling god what is there fault in this birth that they are born blind.
    After that incident, I thought all these years I went to Tirupati to see lord and standing in ques for hours but this incident was eye opener…no longer I will rely on symbolic gods. Those gods (symbols) are not only found in Tirupati but everywhere.
    But till today I have no idea why god creates deformed kids…or kids who are born blind…
    sometimes this leads me to question god…
    and I have no answers….many many questions

  10. suneet says:

    We manifest what is within/ what we focus on…what fun if your movie brings in a spiritual solution to the ‘lack’…
    😉

  11. kedar says:

    A monk once entered a village…he was thirsty but he was calm… he asked for water from door to door…he asked for a bucket full then a vessel then a glass then a drop…but no one gave him even a drop…he decided to go to next village…he was calm and quiet…
    he was passing through a dessert and was surprised to see a lone tree and a woman sitting under it…he walked up to the tree…the woman was pregnant and had cut her wrists…blood was oozing out…she was half dead and was murmuring ‘Water’…
    Monk started crying…collected his tears in palm and made woman drink it…tied her wrists…and walked away…
    it was thousands of years ago…since then few have been lucky to see the TREE and rain pouring down only on the TREE…Somewhere in the dessert!

  12. ruchi says:

    why r we only blaming government what about us, i see people wasting water every where, why dont we do something at our level what about roof rain harvesting, using less for bathing, cleaning . what about taking some responsibility ?
    Any ways i am not saying our government is not to blame but blame game is not helping any one

  13. Manisha says:

    Apologize for writing something totally off-topic.
    When I see you on TV in ‘India’s Got Talent’, you remind me so much of your uncle Mr. Dev Anand.
    Your mannerisms, the ways of delivering a sentence and sometimes your smile has so much of Dev Anand in it !! It is amazing….

  14. Enjoyed this article thanks – good work!

  15. Koizen says:

    YOUrself!
    If you did not have computer…
    Why would you go in search of people and see what everyone says?
    or
    Wander in Himalayas to talk to like minded souls who are actually in search of self?
    ABSURD!
    When you are talking about search for self…don’t you think its your own inner quest…a thirst…your own journey with your own mistakesand experiences?
    …And you are spot on when you use the word ‘indulgence’ when you preceded the word ‘idle’ in that entry… now I am not choosing the words to make a point that when you are idle, you indulge…but that is the message that comes across as some of your friends have told about this very blog.
    search for self, being idle and then indulging may lead to results that are not to your quest…what I mean to say is
    One does need a starting point to fuel the imagination, just a start but after you are on your quest, you will not need anybody. Why
    are you taking second opinions that are not yours? You don’t even know those opinions in true sense. For they in future…may have many horrible and disguised events that may not be fruitful to your quest, your journey.
    And that brings to a question…when you are seeking did you wonder what you are seeking? Many do not have idea what they are seeking
    and then they indulge in one lifetime!
    I have seen many religious fanatics who have constantly taken second opinions of religions, gurus, practices but when I imagine them
    75-80 years old, sick in bed, some of those people will wonder all the life I have taken to religious practices, listened to my guru but today I am sick and on deathbed and what use was that religion? what use was that guru? What use was those second hand opinions?
    Only if that person when young would have taken trouble of what that person’s choice is…
    its not second hand!
    Always go with first hand…your experience, your truth…one lifetime! that’s all that matters!

  16. Amit says:

    Hello Sir,
    You are the most affable ‘Judge’ on the Telly ..One who thinks with his heart. Have been your fan since the “Mahanagar” days…Envied you when all the girls in our class swooned over you
    Hope you start work on your ambitious work – Paani…Bollywood desperately needs someone who can connect with the masses and not cater to just NRI aspirations..Your films like Masoon, Mr India & Bandit Queen still mermerise us with the aerthy pathos..High time that we have another great project from you

  17. Mee says:

    Education brings awareness, right? Its the educated masses who are most insensitive to wastage of water because they know not conserving/saving -only wastage. Certain basics which most people get right, why don’t we??

  18. Navpreet says:

    HI shekhar JI,
    Nmaste,
    yes, it is very scary but where is the water going? Is h20 changing into something. Is the green house or global warming melting water molecule. Is hydrological cycle failing. where is the problem. Well to my knowledge our civilizations have died or disrupted with floods rather then droughts. We survived very long droughts but floods and rise in sea level across globe is what will happen if water continious to melt at the rate like now. So maybe we need to built the ARC in coming future.
    navpreet

  19. vishal says:

    dear shekhar,
    saw you on telivision ……just thinking ‘at what point of time in a person’s career or in learning cycle ….a person gets confident enough to judge others?’
    no …i’m not criticizing anybody …just wondering ..how can a person can judge another person’s art or craft…which he/she is not able to do himself/herself….i understand this point of view that they are not judging “the performer” ……..they are judging “the performance”…… but in my opinion in every act ….performer is not different from the performance….but i’m not able to reach to any conclusion…..

  20. p says:

    Off topic:
    After Manisha wrote about Indias got talent,(and so have many others)I got tempted to go to you tube and watch it(unfortunately we do not get ‘colours’ in the US). Ended up watching a Krishna episode. WOW!!!!What else can I say? Am speechless!

  21. Aline says:

    Dear Shekhar,
    I must confess as soon as I opened your blog this morning after having been absent from the computer for several days I started reading your post and thought: “This cannot be, this must be part of Paani”…
    To my surprise, it is true. What to say. Hot baths, pools, water games are luxuries that we should think twice before we indulge in. Everywhere in the world.

  22. A B Mehta says:

    According to a study by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, groundwater across India from New Delhi into heavily farmed agricultural belts dropped at a rate of 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) per year between August 2002 and October 2008. That decrease in groundwater is more than double the capacity of India’s largest reservoir. Rainfall was more or less normal during this period of study.
    The main reasons for inreasing need of water have been the growing population and increasing irrigation and power requirement
    Sushmota Dutta in a Blog wrote a few days back “The crisis all over Madhya Pradesh has become grim and has spiraled out of control. People have been forced to buy water tankers to fulfill their daily needs. At some places people have turned violent for the ultimate requirement of life-‘water’. The Kolar Dam and the dried-up Upper Lake are the only life saviours of the city- providing the nectar of life. If the rain God doesn’t smile soon, the situation will only get worse. But is one year’s rainfall shortage the only reason for the city’s deteriorating scenario? No, mismanagement of our water resources when in abundance, and its wrong distribution is a serious cause of what Bhopal is going through today.”
    The common public of Bhopal has made conscious effort to avoid wastage of water due to sustained media campaign and self realization.
    Water shortage has now reached a stage when the problem could result in class divide from residents of elite neighborhoods having personal tube wells to urban lower middle class and poor whose taps are dry most of the time. Farmers in desperate need of irrigation to grow their crops are the biggest sufferers in the rural area.
    -anand

  23. R.K.Chari says:

    And yet why is India so tardy about installing rainwater harvesting systems? Does it not make sense to save every drop of water when it rains for use when it does not?
    Is the problem one of finding a suitable one-stop-shop effective RWH solution provider?
    We do have a solution – try looking up web link http://www.atlantiscorp.com.au – they are now in India in a big way.

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