Climate change activists have long argued that water will be the political flashpoint of the 21st century. Water-stressed India will likely be one of the first places to test that theory. The state of Tamil Nadu complains that it doesn’t receive its fair share of the waters of the Cauvery River; recently, the authority that nominally manages the river accused the government of neighboring Karnataka of holding onto water that it should have allowed to flow down to the Cauvery delta.
Things might get even testier up north, where more than a billion people depend upon rivers that rise in the Himalayas. Bangladesh and Pakistan feel that India is being stingy with river water. Indian strategists constantly worry that China will divert water from the Himalayan rivers that rise in Tibet to feed the thirst cities in its own north.
The floods in Chennai are a warning. As the world warms, the rains on which India depends have become erratic: They frequently fail to arrive on time, and they fall in a more disparate and unpredictable pattern. The country can no longer afford to waste its dwindling resources.
A rapidly urbanizing and developing India needs to drought- proof its cities and rationalize its farming. Water-harvesting must be a priority, alongside mechanisms for groundwater replenishment. As it is, every summer is hotter and less bearable. If Indians run short of water as well, one of the world’s most populous nations could well become unlivable
India’s population is likely to exceed China’s sometime in the middle of the 2020s and peak around 1.6 billion sometime in the middle of the century. That’s a lot of people in a country that already seems crowded.
Generally speaking, water shortages are usually more about mismanagement of resources than an absolute lack of the precious commodity. There are exceptions of course but when rains fall every year the question is less about quantity and more about the quality of governance. In just the same way countries need clear national energy, commercial, military and political action plans, national water managements plans are also necessary for the long-term welfare of populations.
In a country like India where there is clear competition between the states that is going to be a difficult project. Moreover, the geopolitical consequences of China controlling the origins of just about all of Asia’s major rivers is doubtless a topic conversation in capitals ranging from Islamabad through New Delhi to Ho Chi Min.
The answer to India’s water problems is infrastructure development in everything from industry to modern irrigation, sanitation and utilities. That highlights the urgency to get liquidity flowing in the financial sector once more, following the blow-up of some of the housing finance companies.