Water Nightmares

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The news of water scarcity and droughts are no longer a surprise, even for a place like Manipur which falls in the geographical belt which receives one of the heaviest monsoons in the world. In the years ahead things can only get worse, and if precautions are not taken, even disastrous. The fact is, it is unusual for ponds and other forms of water reservoirs, natural and artificial, to dry up completely, but this is happening. There probably are many reasons for this, but here as some which are obvious even to lay folks, but because of their everydayness, serious heed not paid to, apart from platitudes and homilies from politicians and activists alike. One of these is deforestation and the consequent loss of the soil to retain moisture, causing mountain streams and rivers to run dry faster. Let us face it, deforestation is a reality in the state. The second reason is related to the first. While people’s lifestyle may not have changed much, practices which were not permanently damaging to the environment when the population was small, would and probably have become a big threats to the eco system now. The slash and burn agriculture for instance, when practised by a limited number of people, would have left time for the slashed and burned hillsides to regenerate when the agriculturists, in periodic rotational cycles, went to other sites to carry on their agriculture before returning to the same spot years later. Quite obviously, with a larger number of people doing it, the scenario would be altogether different, all for the worse.

Though bad, these causes can be rectified, for example, by the introduction of more scientific methods of agriculture, or prevention of commercial logging etc. But there are factors which are beyond easy human control. The drought reports from the hills hence are also a reminder that water resources are limited and cannot be augmented at all by artificial means. If more people are using it, there will be less volume per capita available. This is a problem throughout the world. China’s three great rivers, Yangze, Hwang Ho, and Huai Rivers today are reportedly dry before they reach the sea because of overuse. Similarly, the Colorado River in the US virtually has no water today by the time it crosses into Mexico, causing tensions. It is for the same reason that the Indus Water Treaty 1960 between Indian and Pakistan is also becoming problematic today. Then there is also the issue of global warming, which is again beyond ordinary control of any particular community, and would have to be fought together by the whole world. But while the global climate battle is being fought, local communities have their private battles to fight. The current Ukhrul drought case is an indication of this. What must be kept in mind in this battle is, since the availability of water cannot increase, except in the event of a miracle, the strategy must be to use whatever water available prudently. What is also needed is to determine scientifically the exact volume of water available in the state and its various sub-regions each year from monsoon discharge, and then work out the optimum way to tap this available resource. The same problem came to the fore during another discussion on the problems and prospects of horticulture in Manipur organised by the Editors’ Guild in collaboration with the Horticulture department recently. Of the many stumbling blocks before intensive off season cash crop cultivation raised by farmers is the question of water shortage.

While issues like food production can be augmented through human will, water availability is destiny, and nothing except divine intervention can make it change. The only recommendation therefore can only pertain to prudent and scientific use, as well as equitable distribution of available water. This should also be a thought for the Manipur government to begin thinking seriously on introducing a full-fledged independent environment management department under a cabinet minister. Or perhaps a department such as the Irrigation and Flood Control Department can be reoriented towards this mission. Let it be realised, in the years ahead, the greatest threat to the welfare of the people of the state will hinge on the environment question. If neglected, this can spell the doom of populations, and there are plenty of examples of exoduses of people from their homelands induced by environmental disasters.

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