Lifestyle & Belief

Delhi's water woes and a message for India: Stop whining.


The portrait of an Hindu Sadhu or holy man is seen on a dry lake in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi on April 20, 2010. India, with its 1.2 billion citizens, faces challenges from rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, such as pollution, sanitation and water supply, as well as degradation of forests and agricultural lands, and is already the world's fifth largest carbon emitter despite a low per capita share.



Delhi is undergoing a water crisis this month, as neighboring states have decided to cut us off. More power to them, I say. But, then, I haven't run out of water yet.

In fact, my Delhi Development Authority "colony" spills hundreds of gallons into the drains every morning because nobody can be bothered to turn off the pumps. (In India's capital, we get water for an hour or so a day, and pump our supply up to tanks on the roof).

That's the way things go here, though, as Jay Mazoomdaar points out in a great article in this week's Tehelka.  The rich get richer, and when anybody suggests they ought to cut back on something -- emissions, water consumption, maid-beating -- they start whining about how poor India is.  (Full disclosure: I'm as guilty of this as anybody, apart from the maid-beating).

"India's biggest lies hide behind its per capita figures," Mazoomdaar writes. "Our average income is $1,219 (approximately 68,300) and we are ranked 142nd in the world. But with 55 billionaires, we also stand fourth in the list of the countries boasting the world’s richest individuals. Between these two true figures, two-thirds of us live on less than half a dollar a day and nearly half our children are malnourished."

"The per capita ‘lies’ help fight our cases at various development or earth summits where we press ‘our’ growth prerogative and bandy ‘our’ low carbon footprint. But the deception is fast catching up with us at home. While governments may soon have to grapple with the political cost of institutionalising inequality, the environmental, and thereby human, cost of it is already being borne by us."

What's the upshot?  In Delhi, the poor get as little as 15 liters of water a day (a bit less than 4 gallons), while folks like me, who get 400 liters (100 gallons), are using drinking water to wash their cars and fill their swimming pools.