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Will the next World War be fought over water?
Einstein was shocked that his own contribution in developing the atomic bomb (Manhattan project) had caused the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Around 1948, he famously said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

In the meanwhile, the world has changed. In 2003, Boutros Boutros Ghali, former UN Secretary General said, "The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics. And 'Water will be more important than oil this century'."

Of all the essentials for sustaining life on Earth, which nature has provided us, water is the scarcest!

In my article, 'Nature's Revenge', I had mentioned, that: "While water covers two thirds of our globe, it is mostly saline. Fresh water suitable for consumption of humans, animals and for agriculture is only 3 per cent of the total. Even most of this is locked up in polar ice caps, mountain tops and glaciers or is underground. So ready availability of freshwater for any civilisation is scarce and the sources are rivers, lakes and smaller water bodies. No wonder, that our ancestors held our rivers, water bodies and springs as sacred and revered them as divinity."

Coming to India, with about 18 per cent of the world's population we have only 4 per cent of the world's water resources. Obviously, India's per capita availability of water is one of the lowest. With increasing neglect of our rivers, lakes and pond and other water bodies, we are heading towards a major existential crisis.

Our holiest river, Ganga has been receiving token homage from Rajeev Gandhi's Ganga Action Plan (1986), to Manmohan Singh's benign neglect, to PM Modi's dream project, 'Namami Gange'. In the meanwhile, thousands of crores of tax money have literally gone down the 'ganda nala'! After a 3-year review, Modi has discovered that nothing has really happened, except enormous expenditures! Finally, he decided to oversee the project himself! Let's keep our fingers crossed! Politicians make us believe that expression of our deep devotion to Ganga, is compensation enough for our continued abuse of the endangered holy river.

NASA'a satellite images find that of the world's largest 21 out of 37 groundwater aquifers are short on fresh water, due to human consumption. These will be further stressed by increasing population and ensuing industry and agriculture.

Environmentalists are certain that a World War over water is inevitable due to world wide water shortages and lack of co-ordination for water harvesting and sharing, both at the local and international levels.

Asian Development Bank has declared India, China, Pakistan and Bangladesh as 'water scarce nations'. This could lead to serious flashpoints, over sharing of Indus, Brahmaputra and Teesta river waters. At the domestic level, water trains and water riots have been witnessed in Tamil Nadu. There are very bitter tensions, further fueled by politicians, between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu over sharing of Cauvery River waters.

A ray of hope:

Rajendra Singh, dubbed as the 'water man of India', believes that with community efforts, the situation can be partly redeemed. Both he and Anna Hazare have shown how perennially arid areas of Alwar in Rajasthan and Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra have been made self sufficient, by community-led water harvesting and conservation. Both of them have separately won the Ramon Magsaysay award for their laudable work in water sufficiency.

Why do community-led efforts at water management succeed, but the government's mega schemes are mostly failures, at heavy cost to tax payers? Singh points out that 'Governments usually don't support community initiatives – they support contractors, not communities. The government always likes big projects in the name of combating desertification or rejuvenating the landscape: big dams, big canals, centralized irrigation water systems, pipeline drinking water systems. They create new canals even when the old canals are dry. There is no community participation in these projects. Every type of work is given to a contractor now. It is a contractor-driven democracy, not a people-driven democracy'.

On an individual level, there is no escape from water conservation, water harvesting, recycling and reuse, as a part of our daily life style. Every drop of water counts!

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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