Water is the new gold. It is also the cause of future wars. However, when the solution to the problem lies in the problem itself, why all the (impending) conflict?
Truth in Cinema
It is too bad that our future was predicted by two movies: one awful and the other in deep freeze. Kevin Costner’s critically and commercially panned Waterworld foresaw global warming and the signs of things to come. Shekar Kapur’s Paani is stuck in developmental hell. The movie is a look into the future, based in a world where wars over water have broken out. Water is owned by international corporations who use thirst as a weapon of control.
Both movies foretell a grim future, and one that seems to be all too real. Rising sea levels are no secret now. Climate change is wreaking havoc all around the world. While we may argue about it among ourselves, Mother Nature continues to cleanse herself of the plague that our species is, as she has done periodically in the past. The irony is not lost on us. In the end, there is a very high chance that it is the very water on our our planet that will end up cleaning it of all the grime (read: us).
However, there are still ways that we can smartly use water over the next few decades.
Breakthroughs in Science
Recent reports reveal that scientists are making breakthrough strides in solar fuel research. A pleasant outcome of the studies has made it a lot easier to convert water into fuel. In a nutshell, hydrogen has to be separated from oxygen in the water molecule. Then this hydrogen can be combined with CO2 or flammable hydrogen gas to create a renewable energy source. The scientists hope to create this system using sunlight, water, and CO2. All three resources are in plentiful supply.
For this to happen, water needs a solar powered catalyst that helps in the breakdown process. Scientists hope to create an efficient marriage of theory and practicality. The feasibility of using salt water etc. need to be figured out, but the rapid progress in renewable energy research gives cause for cheer.
This combined with the ability to convert sea water to fresh water can tackle two big problems facing nations today: clean energy and potable water.
“Dam” The Indian Politicians
What little cause for cheer we have needs to be reconciled with the reality of ugly politics. India is suffering for access to clean water. States like Tamil Nadu are staring at severe drought in 2017. In an agrarian economy, this directly translates into farmer suicides – as seen in other states like Maharashtra.
States like Tamil Nadu present a strange series of contradictions and abject mismanagement. Take for instance the city of Chennai. After floods in 2015, the city is now reeling under drought and severe water rationing. Rampant encroachment and lack of civic planning has messed up water bodies. Economics ran over the environment. The desalination plant outside the city does not supply enough for the entire city nor is it running at full capacity. However, cola companies continue to draw water from the only perennial river in the state.
At the state level, the squabbling has not stopped. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka are in court over an archaic water sharing law. Karnataka’s crown jewel and capital, Bengaluru, is called the Silicon Valley of India. The city has toxic lakes and is already seeing early obituaries in the press. The Garden City, also once known as the city of lakes, has seen high rises built on encroached-upon and land-filled water bodies.
At the national level, successive governments have gone extremely slow on proposals to link all of India’s major rivers. The Clean Ganga project remains excellent in concept and barely existent in execution. The reasons why these projects should be completed are very clear. The reasons why they aren’t getting done are not.
The core of the issue is that making the last mile journey from science experiment to public utility will happen, not because of, but despite governments. A recent example in Chennai is of citizens and NGOs collaborating to clean up a local lake.
The issue is that water is too critical an issue to play politics over. Sadly, that is what it is. Chennai’s water-based economy is a hotbed of vice and violence. Politicians and their goons are all involved. Concerned authorities are paid to look the other way. The same stretches to global warming/climate change and pollution.
At the end, what really sucks is one simple thing. Of all the Kevin Costner movies that our lives could have become, it had to be Waterworld…