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Water: Every Drop Counts!

Water- Every Drop Counts!

Let me tell you a story. True story!

So, three days back, my old neighbour who lives abroad with her daughter, came back to the country for a visit. Opened up her apartment that had remained shut for more than 18 months, but thanks to the neighbours, was maintained in decent condition, with an extra round of cleaning thrown in so the lady and her offspring didn’t get enveloped in dust the minute they stepped in.

That night, at about 2:30 am, the old lady’s son-in-law, who seemed like a senior citizen himself, woke up to answer nature’s call. Went in to use the Indian style toilet. Of course. having lived abroad for three decades upwards, the man was out of touch with squatting. He couldn’t get right back up and put his weight on the pipe to give him some leverage.

Next moment he was caught in a major deluge! The old pipes, unused to such manhandling, burst right open, soaking him in seconds. Within minutes, the whole household was in an uproar. They woke up the flat secretary, the watchmen and any other stray insomniac that happened to walk past at that ungodly hour.

The poor secretary ran two floors up to the terrace, located their inlet pipe after an exhaustive search and turned off the mains. Only snag was, the inlet pipe didn’t just feed into the bathroom with the burst pipe but of everyone on that line. Including mine! It made for a frantic morning, when the kids woke up unable to use their bathroom and all of us had to share one, making the rush hour even more of one.

That same time, the Site Administrator of one of the residential complexes which had our VenAqua system installed, had a similar incident. At 2.00 am, his phone pinged with a message that flat X was showing an unusual amount of water usage. He puzzled over this, as that apartment was lying empty currently. Still, he followed protocol and informed his counterpart at the residential complex. Who walked inside the empty apartment to find the cause of the water leak: an open tap in one of the bathrooms.

He quickly turned the tap off and delved further into the matter. Turned out, the flat was shown to prospective tenants by a realtor, who had opened the taps and not closed one off completely. The tanks were empty then but as they filled, the water started leaking through the open tap. The residential complex’s administrator called our offices later that morning to share the results of his investigation and thank the stars for our product. As without it, they might have lost much more water – at least till the next time the apartment was opened and someone went into the bathroom to find out where the sound of water was coming from!

Sometimes, it is great when a system comes together, isn’t it?

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Of leaky taps and water shortage

Leaky taps

The past week, a heart-rending image of an emaciated Nigerian toddler has been doing the rounds on the Internet. The starved, painfully thin child was seen gratefully sipping from a bottle of mineral water, held by the aid worker that rescued him was enough to tug on the heart-strings of the most hardened person.

The reasoning behind how the situation came about aside, the image of this toddler, not much bigger than that bottle of water, drinking water from a safe, clean source is an arresting one. Because, more than a billion of the world’s children are unable to access the same. Clean, safe drinking water, the basic right of any living thing, is denied to these most vulnerable of our species. The same holds true for sanitation, as well.

1,00,00,00,000 children. No water. Or sanitation.

Not-so-fun fact: A person in a developed country having a five-minute shower uses more water than the average person in a developing country slum uses for an entire day.

I shall pause for a bit to let that sink in.

Let me elaborate on the discrepancy. When I was a little girl growing up in Madras, summers meant desperate shortage of water, which meant rationing. Street after street, the wells dried up and the residents had to buy water from the Metro Water tankers. At the end of every street, Metro Water installed a blue rectangular tank (this was upgraded to the black Syntex tanks a few years later), from which the water for a whole street would be dispensed. This tank would be topped up every couple of years so a family had to survive on 3-4 buckets of water, regardless of the number of members.

When you had one mug of water for your morning ablutions, you learn pretty quick to not waste a drop. The day’s washing up was done with minimal wastage of water, as well as the rest of the chores.

Now, though, the water situation is not so dire, especially where I live and I see my maid happily keeping the taps open as she cleans the sink and around. Reminding her to do so is a regular task but the important detail is that the need to be aware of how much water one is utilising and wasting has slipped in its importance.

Turning every tap off in your home may seem like a small thing but everything adds up. It is the little drops that get together to make an ocean.

Next time you are tempted to let your water run over, thinking of the little kiddies around the world that are dying for lack of water.

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2015: A Look Back At Water Conservation

waterstories

Another year draws to a close. A year that began full of promise, as it does every year. A year that has brought a series of highs and lows. If water and the lack of it were the talking points in the beginning of the year, too much water and the resultant flooding in Chennai, while droughts ravaged Uttarakhand is how we are closing down this year. As if we needed more proof that water is the central need of every life!

Here’s a list of just some of the interesting articles published this year on water conservation. Here’s looking forward to a better and more sustainable year in 2016!

  • Leave it to the Americans to never give up, instead to hit winners even when the odds are so heavily stacked against! While everyone is talking about the drought in California, how it is just getting worse, the natives are just getting stuck in, setting records for water conservation! “The water board has assigned each community a mandatory conservation target between 4 and 36 percent, depending on how much water residents used last summer, that will be tracked between June and February. Cities that don’t meet these targets face fines or state-imposed restrictions on water use.”
  • About time too! Considering the majority of the state is a desert, you would think the government of Rajasthan would think long and hard about establishing a robust water conservation programme, but hey, better late than never, right? “”Taking the Maharashtra experience as the backgrounder, the state government has prepared a preliminary report on the guidelines to be adopted for execution of the plan,” Panchayat Raj and Rural Development Minister Surendra Kumar Goyal said while addressing a workshop in Jaipur.”
  • I first saw this at a Facebook-friend’s urban garden – when she had gone on holiday for a week, she ensured her beloved plants didn’t lack water by setting up a basic drip irrigation system. And here is ‘wick irrigation‘, a marvellous way to make a little bit of water go a long way. “‘Wick Irrigation’ (termed Thiri Nana in Malayalam) reduces the water consumption for agriculture to a great extent. It is specifically designed for terrace cultivation, of mostly vegetables, in grow bags.”
  • One of the most astounding news stories in this genre from earlier this year was the “Global Water Walk for Peace” held by Rajendra Singh, a.k.a “Waterman of India”, in order to raise the awareness of of the need for conservation of water. “The march, a part of the ongoing CMS Vatavaran Film Festival began in the morning from the Rajiv Chowk Metro Station culminating at the NDMC Convention centre, where the festival is being held.”
  • Even as Tamil Nadu was in the midst of the wettest November since records began,  a pilot project for conserving groundwater was being rolled out in the two districts in Karaikal. Upon the successful completion of the pilot, the project will be extended into the “problem areas of nearby Puducherry”. “Mr. Subburaj said that as of now, there was not serious exploitation of groundwater in Karaikal.
    However, there was a strong case for setting up rainwater harvest structures in all the 6,000-odd domestic and commercial complex in the district for long-term benefit on the lines of the Tamil Nadu.”
  • Saving energy saves water  “The United Nations forecasts that 1.8 billion people will live in regions of “absolute water scarcity” by 2025. In India water access is expected to worsen as the overall population is expected to increase to 1.6 billion by 2050…. According to current estimates amongst the regions which are most vulnerable to water scarcity in the next 20 years, India comes number second after Middle East followed by Mexico and the American Southwest.”
  • After the huge floods that nearly decimated villages in interior Tamil Nadu while many in the North were in desperate need of water, experts in the field got together at Manipal University to talk about conservation. “K. Narayana Shenoy, an expert in water issues and conservation of the water, warned that unless the country and the people adopt water conservation methods and take up the recharge of the groundwater levels seriously, the future would be bleak with an acute shortage of drinking water.”

Out Of (The World) Water

Interplanetary H20

There’s water crisis around the corner. Well, I know that isn’t actually news. If you are living in Chennai, there’s always a water crisis looming around, ready to take over your entire life. Time was, the Metro water tanks will be seen all over the city, splashing the unwary with precious water only during the summer months. Now, they are becoming ubiquitous.

So what’s the solution for THIS, the latest, water crisis? Get the water that is feeding our crops and divert it to our homes, of course! Simple!

Last year, on a trip to my father’s village, I visited the Kollidam, the overflow distributary of the river Kaveri. For the first time ever, there was no flowing water. Even in the harshest summer, when sand was all you could see, there still would be a tiny stream of water flowing through the middle of the river bed. That is no longer the case, say the locals. Ever since the deep bore wells were sunk straight into the beds to water the homes of nearby towns, the water that is found on the surface has dwindled to nearly nothing.

If this is what happens to our farmlands, where do we go for food? Or better still, food or water, which do you prefer more?

But there’s no need to worry as NASA has great news for us. There’s water on Mars!  Not just on the movie but in the real world! Not right now, but billions of years back. But hey, if there was water once, we can always stick some bore wells in and see if it is still there, right? As if that isn’t awesome enough, the boffins at NASA think there might be H2O on Pluto too! Beyond the realms of fantasy, or what?

Now, all it remains is for us to figure out how to get the water from there to our kitchens.

 

Invisible Water Available

INVISIBLE WATER_AVAILABLE RIGHT HEREA few days back, the newspapers carried this photograph with a rather arresting headline: Give us water, it says, and we can see many women sitting on the ground with their pots, in Krishnagiri, in Tamil Nadu, waiting for water. So what is so new about this picture, you ask. After all, when the mercury goes up and the rain refuses to put in an appearance, this is the image of every corner of the country.

And then, there’s this one: of yet another group of women (aside: why is it always the women? Are the menfolk not bothered if they have water or not?) walking up to the Collector’s office with their empty pots, asking for a regular supply of water to their area.

The reason these news articles are interesting is the fact that they appeared in the papers right alongside this news item: No water scarcity in the State, is what the Minister for Municipal Administration S.P. Velumani declared in front of the State Assembly the previous day, citing adequate rains and the fact that the demand had been worked out earlier and so, the supply details have been put in place well in advance.

Now, then. If only someone could call the womenfolk off. And maybe supply them with diviners.

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Summer Vignettes

Two girls Carrying home pots of water

Carrying home pots of water

 

It was the summer I turned 9. I was staying with my maternal grandparents during the school’s annual vacation, that spanned 7 unimaginable weeks. 7 whole weeks, with nothing much to do, that seemed to spread undeterminably.

Without a TV to numb me to the passage of time, I spent a lot of it outdoors, doing one unplanned activity or another, with similarly occupied peers. One of my regular chores was to place the water pots in the queue in front of the water tank. This ugly black edifice, that stood like an ungainly giant in front of the gates to my grandparents’ house, was filled every day with a huge blue tank, that sloshed water even as it filled the black one with precious liquid for the bottom-half of our street.

West Mambalam, a suburb of Chennai, was under severe water shortage and as such, there was rationing, rather like a World War times Britain. Every household merited three pots of water, each costing anything between Rs 2 to Rs 5, per container. If you were lucky and were on good terms with the dispenser, you could buy one more, but that’s it! As the lady that dispensed water from the tank and collected the money was the one who did the housework for our landlord and as my granny was looked upon favourably by her as a good egg, we didn’t have to plead too much for the extra pot of water.

The placement of the water pot was crucial. Try as I might, I never could get there early enough to plonk ours at the top of the line, despite living right there! Cursing them and their pots, I always tried to place ours as close to the first pots as possible, stealing an inch or two at each pass. Doing this, without getting caught and without upending the other pots is something of an art, I tell you.

The timing of the arrival of the water lorry was arbitrary; one knew the rough time but in the days before mobile phones and with the Indian hatred for anything resembling a structure, the water’s arrival, much like anything, was in the lap of the gods. Woe betide you if you stepped out before the water was dispensed – your empty pots will be waiting outside the gates to welcome you home and neither love nor money will get you more water till the next time the water lorry came a’calling.

Life, to put simply, revolved around water.

If you thought for a second, that placement of the pots in regular queues indicated orderliness, you’d be wrong. Long before the water hose that was wrapped around the mouth of the black tank was loosened by the proper personnel and the water dispensing began, people would start thronging near their pots, jostling and pushing their way forward, pushing and shoving to the head of the queue. Fights would break out, pots would break and it would end in a phenomenal amount of din, till the last drop of water was taken away. Till the next day.

Through all this, you cannot help but notice the amount of water that got wasted – the rectangular cuboid shape of the water lorry that almost always had a faulty hinge that the water sloshed off the top and poured in rivulets as it was being transported; the hose pipe from the black tanks that always leaked water in a steady stream; the amount of water that got sloshed everywhere as the water was transferred from the lorry to the black tank; the water that leaked out of the hose as one pot was filled and the next was placed in its place…

You’d think that people that are ready to commit grievous body harm to their neighbours over a vessel of water would be more mindful of how precious each drop is and conserve it, and not waste it so much!

You’d be wrong.