Feature

India: A wet land where water is scarce

In a land of monsoons, why must the average rural woman walk more than 850 miles a year to find water?

Aamir KhanThe Hindu 

This is a land of monsoons, said Aamir Khan, so “where does all our water go?” India gets enough rainfall to meet our needs, yet the average rural woman walks more than 850 miles a year to fetch her family’s water. It wasn’t always this way. In centuries past, Indian villages controlled their water sources cooperatively, and everyone had access. “With the coming of the British,” though, collective ownership was replaced by centralized administration of lakes and water tanks, as people were taxed or otherwise forced to pay for water. The result of this centralization was that thousands of lakes and canals silted up. Delhi, for instance, once had 800 lakes, while fewer than 10 survive today. Now, instead of collecting in those lakes, the rains flood the cities and run off uselessly. The solution, championed by activist Anna Hazare and others, is to capture the runoff in tanks or man-made ponds and treat it on site. The idea is not “rocket science, nor is it new.” It requires a return to the “traditional wisdom” of Indian rainwater harvesting. Water is central to so many of our religious rites, particularly Hindu rituals. Surely we can provide running water for all.

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