World Water Day March 22 2011March 18, 2011
On World Water Day March 22
The U.N. has declared March 22nd as World Water Day to bring focus and attention to this most precious of natural resource and to urge all – policymakers, governments, NGO’s and citizens- to think about and take action on water. The theme for this year is “Water for Cities- Responding to the Urban Challenge.”
As the UN’s website www.unwater.org/worldwaterday points out it is the first time in human history that more of the world’s population are in cities than otherwise and that the urban population continues to grow. Many of the population also occupy spaces of deprivation and live in slums. Access to clean water and sanitation is an impossibility for these residents of the cities and has therefore a tremendous consequence on morbidity and mortality.
How cities will choose to respond to this need will determine the very life and death for many of its citizens. Cities will have to respond with the principle that water is first and foremost a human right. Some water for all rather than all water for some would need to be a goal. The regular, timely , sufficient water of good quality will not only ensure good health of citizens but also help make them economically productive and have an enhanced quality of life with an ability to pursue better quality in their living standards. Standing and waiting for a limited supply of sometimes bad quality of water and fighting for this access tells on all aspects of civilized living.
In cities too is the challenge of providing water for the economic engines which drive them. Industrial demand for water is a sine qua non for growth and is one of the fastest growing sectoral demand. How will this demand be met while not taking away from other needs such as social and ecological needs will represent another challenge. The clear management of possible pollution impacts of industrial use of water and that it does not end up damaging the environment and the quality of surface and groundwater is another major challenge as evinced by recent incidents of illegal dumping of toxic industrial effluents .
Our institutions will need to transform themselves to be more democratic, accountable and participatory. Transparency on projects and deals will have to be achieved as will the more integrated management of all sources of water such as groundwater, storm water, rainwater and treated waste water in addition to conventional surface water sources from rivers and lakes.
A Groundwater Regulation Bill is on the anvil in Karnataka and hopefully this will provide the right impetus to ensure equal access to all in the community to this rather unseen resource. Especially in urban areas managing groundwater will be a big challenge considering the high density of its abstraction structures such as bore-wells. Managing our rivers and lakes- the source of water for many of our cities- through river basin organisations has not even begun to be attempted but will need to happen very fast as the quality of rivers degenerate.
At the National level the Water Policy is being redone and hopefully it will be reworked at the State level too. Specific urban water and sanitation policies as a guiding framework for the better management of water resources is the need of the hour and these too should be on the agenda of our policy makers.
The festival of colour and water – Holi- will be celebrated shortly. The true celebration of this festival will be when there is access to all for water and in a sustainable fashion.