THE other day, my domestic help left in a huff. ‘Only you tell me not to waste water. Others in this residential society don’t bother about it. You don’t let me work,’ she said. It was her way or the highway. This has happened umpteen times. Every time a new maid is hired, she walks off because of my request to use water judiciously. ‘Think of a situation when we won’t have any water for our children,’ I argue in order to make them see reason. ‘Why?’ they ask back. ‘We get plenty of water from the taps. What is the need to save it?’ I have realised that I cannot convince them.
Several years ago, I was invited to speak on water conservation on National Science Day at Aligarh Muslim University. I tried to educate the students about the need to conserve water in our daily lives. They quietly heard me; when I completed my sermon, a few of them said, ‘We understand that we must save water; but how can we stop our parents from wasting it? They don’t listen to us.’ I was flummoxed. It seemed that there was a daily fight within families between the initiated and the uninitiated.
So much fresh water goes down the drain when taps are mindlessly kept running during shaving, brushing, washing utensils, etc. Only people who have to fetch water from faraway places know the value of every drop.
In Srinagar, taps usually do not work in winter, particularly when it snows. Once, after dinner, my sister-in-law offered to clean the utensils as I was a new entrant in the family. ‘But there is no water; how will you wash them?’ I asked. She smiled at me and began to scrub the vessels with dry ash. After she completed the cleaning, I asked her whether now she would rinse them with water. ‘No,’ she said, ‘I have already cleaned them.’ I understood that it was a way of life which I would have to learn soon.
Wastage of water by beverage manufacturers is another cause for concern. According to the Water Footprint Network, more than 70 litres of water are required to produce half a litre of soda, about 74 litres for a quarter glass of beer, and about 132 litres for 125 ml of coffee.
The groundwater level is going down alarmingly, even as water bodies are getting polluted by industrial effluents. It is hard to imagine a day without water as we need it for various day-to-day activities. By failing to protect our water resources, we are exposing ourselves to health hazards and economic instability. Rapid urbanisation has also disturbed the natural water cycle.
As water scarcity seems inevitable, water wars between countries are quite likely. Only widespread awareness and a change in the way we consume this precious natural resource, individually as well as collectively, can save us from a man-made catastrophe.
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