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Views: 7 | | 2017-Jul-01

“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”- this line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, may turn into bitter reality if the looming water crisis is not tackled soon.

“Jal hi jeevan hai” or “water is life” has always been quite a popular catchphrase, often quoted while addressing water issues. Every conscious being on this planet knows how crucial water is for the human survival, next only to oxygen (air). But it seems to me that the people inhabiting the planet are either in a state of deep slumber perhaps lost in some fairy tale that in the end everything will be perfectly alright or have closed their eyes thinking that the pertinent water problems of pollution and management are not their concern or perhaps they don’t see any problem at all.

Whatever the case may be, inaction on our part today will prove fatal tomorrow. Humans have a tendency to attach a price-tag to everything. Ironically they don’t value the things available at hand. Thus water as a resource is definitely precious for us but only when we are thirsty. To overcome this vicious attitude we must act today. Once the decision to act is taken, a more pertinent question that needs to be asked is – who needs to act-the state (i.e. government) or the civil society? Who among the civil society? Addressing this question requires properly identifying the various stakeholders involved. It cannot be denied that no single stakeholder can set this problem straight. The concerted and sincere efforts of the various stakeholders viz. the state, the legislature, the executive, the judiciary, NGOs, citizens- old and young, rural , urban, and tribal, men and women, one and all is required. But the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities applies here too. Efforts cannot be homogenous either in quantity or quality. Someone has to take the lead. And who can do this better than the youth. It is the most vibrant and dynamic segment of the country’s population. For any initiatives in sustainable water management to be successful it must be aligned with interests of today’s youth and should have their active participation. Youth form a majority in our population approximately 65%. There can be no better time than this to leverage the demographic dividend we have.

 The foremost task is to identify the dynamics of water issues, outline them in brief before building a consensus on the exact role of youth in not only India but for the world as one entity. Actions taken by a single nation can have spill over effects for others- either positive or negative; because we all are connected with the flow of the water. The most pressing challenge before us especially in the developing countries and third world countries of Asia and Africa is of drinking water.  Commitments have been made in the past in the form of Millennium Development Goals to ensure safe drinking water for those who don’t have access to it. This commitment has found new dimension with it’s inclusion in the Sustainable Development Goals. Millions of dollars have been allocated in the form of grants, aids, developmental loans but the sight of women in rural areas travelling long distances to fetch drinking water is common even today in our country.

Next is the unavailability of water that has serious health implications; it accounts for prevalence of most of the preventable diseases in rural communities. In fact, the lives of these people were among the poorest on our planet and are often devastated by this deprivation, which impedes basic health and human rights. Studies show that half of the hospital beds in the world are occupied by patients who are suffering from water related sickness.

This is the result of mismanagement of a vital resource i.e. water. It is estimated that one third of global food production is based on irrigation, India being no exception. The reckless waste, pollution and overutilization have led to this grave problem. The economic survey 2016-17 states that over-intensive cultivation of water intensive crops has led to water tables declining at a rate of 0.3 meters per year. It is a pity that rivers today are reduced to dumping grounds. Thanks to our callous attitude that Ganga is dying in need of rejuvenation and the action plans are gathering dust.

 It is not the prerogative of only the government to act. It is us on whom the onus lies. How can we hold the state accountable when we ourselves pollute our lakes, rivers and seas. Therefore the most important role youth can play is to impart awareness on issues concerning water and to also educate people as to how to solve those problems. This must be preceded by inculcating values and skills for better and efficient handling of water issues. The youth before they venture out to teach the world must learn themselves, deliberate and discuss about these problems on traditional or social media. They can act as role model by firstly initiating change in themselves; by using water resources judiciously, opting for rainwater harvesting techniques, preventing unnecessary wastage of water, abstaining from polluting sources of water like rivers, lakes, etc. and also convincing their families to do follow suit. They can take professional courses on water management too. Only when demand will arise the state will think of supplying public institutions of excellence in these non-conventional fields. Collaboration with global institutes will be facilitated formally through such channels.

The youth can come up with innovative ideas and begin by tackling localised water issues; as they are aware of the relative availability and constraints of resources in their area, they are bound to perform efficiently. It will not be wrong to say that innovation is the key for most Indian problems. There is no dearth of talent in our country what is needed is a platform and motivation. Odisha girl winning Google Science Fair for a low cost prototype water purifier with maize cobs is a good example.

Collaborating with the state machinery in the execution of various public policies should be the next role for our youth. They are full of enthusiasm and that energy must be tapped in the most fruitful way by the way of participatory approach. Inter- generational dialogue can go a long way in youth involvement at the level of decision making. The state can further augment the youth’s role in judicious and sustainable water management by allocating resources for the capacity building of the youth.

Alarmingly, research findings reveal that by the next 20 years, two third of the world’s population will lack adequate water supply. This issue needs urgent attention.

“Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink”- this line from the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, may turn into bitter reality if the looming water crisis is not tackled soon. The menace of global warming and climate change will only aggravate this crisis in times to come. With the melting of icecaps and glaciers we will have water, capable of submerging greater portions of land, but ironically unviable for human use and consumption.

Developed countries with more resources and better technology are trying to cope up with this challenge, and our efforts are so sluggish that they are becoming a laughing stock. The youth need to play a pivotal and decisive role today because they are leaders, policymakers, decision makers of tomorrow. They hold a greater say in today’s decision because they’ll face its consequences tomorrow. The youth need to be trained and empowered with the experience of today, by allowing them to act and commit mistakes under the guidance of the water professionals and leaders of today.

Every year March 22 is observed as world water day by many countries, NGOs, organisations and individuals. But beyond just celebrating for a day, or a year, we must all find ways to show our active commitment towards the goal of “water for all”. Great civilisations have perished either due to excess or shortage of water. Water associated disasters like flood, drought, tsunami, cyclonic rainfall, etc. create havoc on this planet frequently. Water is critical for sustainable development, including environmental integrity and the alleviation of poverty and hunger, and is indispensable for human health and well being. It is so crucial that it will not be wrong to remark that in this conflict and violence ridden world thousands have lived without love and peace and will do so, but not one without water.

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