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World Water Day – on cooperation and sharing

March 21, 2013

This World Water Day March 22nd, 2013 is designated as the year of water cooperation. In this part of the world, South India,  large states fight over rivers and take the dispute to the highest court of the land. Even that decision is met with discomfort and is not easily accepted. When states fight is there hope for water and its sharing then?

On a trip to Rajasthan near the old abandoned town of Bhangarh I come across a well. This I am told is on community land, no one owns this well. Farmers have got together and installed some diesel pump-sets. Everybody in a radius of a kilometre almost is allowed to share the waters. The pump-set too can be hired and used. A true example of sharing.

Another town called Vijayapura close to Bangalore. Waste-water flows out of the town in a channel. A farmer whose bore-well has gone dry finds an ingenious way to tap into the waste-water and use it for his land. Other farmers downstream now request that he allow some waste-water to flow so that they can use it too. He readily agrees. Sharing waste-water too is possible.

Close to the nieghbourhood there are a series of deep open wells. These were dug in the 1940’s and even as late as 1960’s by hand with great effort. Those who dug the wells are no more but the families and their descendants continue to benefit from the endeavour of their fore-fathers. Grandfather starts, son completes and grandchildren enjoy the fruits of water from wells so goes an old saying. Though the wells are private the water is not and is available for all the families around who need it for drinking and cooking. Indeed a case of inter-generational sharing, as well as current generation sharing of the precious resource called groundwater.

In the early part of the 1900’s there was a great drought in the city. A betel leaf merchant by the name Yele Mallappa Chetty devoted a large part of his earnings and wealth to the construction of a water body called a tank so as to harvest rainwater and provide succor to the people for drinking water as well as for farming needs. Yele Mallappa Chetty kere is on Old Madras Road and its vast water spread a joy to behold.  Yele Mallappa was a water philanthropist and a grateful city must remember him even now.

In the 1920’s another drought struck the city. The only source of water the Hessarghatta reservoir ran dry. Three large tanks upstream which still had water had to be breached so that their waters could fill the Hessarghatta tank and provide drinking water to an already thirsty city. This was done only in consultation with farmers who would lose their crops in the three tanks. The city ensured drinking water to the villages and paid cash compensation to the farmers for giving up their water, a sterling example of water cooperation indeed.

In the modern times people establish water kiosks called ‘Pyaoos’. Free water is distributed to those thirsty especially in the scorching summer months of March, April and May. This is all voluntary action and especially a facet of the Marwari community from Rajasthan. Nothing is more worthy a deed than giving water to people and animals.

Why cannot ‘pyaoos’ be established by some of the large commercial and residential buildings in the city? Water can be provided to passerbys , construction workers et al who would be thirsty in an increasingly dry city. I such efforts of goodwill and compassion beyond us ? Not necessarily so.

There are many bore-wells with hand-pumps in the city. An auto rickshaw driver pumps water from one in Malleswaram and slakes his thirst. He then fills a bottle of water from the same hand-pump and goes to a roadside sampling and waters it. He does this  every day sharing water with a tree.

On the streets a neighbour starts chatting. She puts a small bowl of water replenished every day and kept in a corner providing relief to myriad birds, insects and creatures of nature in a thirsty urban world. She thoroughly enjoys the bio-diversity she gets to see. Many do it out of a sense of selflessness. Can you?

There are acts great and small done with a spirit of community and these acts are their own reward. This World Water Day let us renew our commitment to the spirit that is water , renew our bonds with it and the world that surrounds us, let us share with people who have little access and let us also share with nature so that the web of life is reinforced. That would be water wisdom.

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