'The Race for Water is Against Ourselves'

(Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)
(Arif Ali/AFP/Getty Images)

MUMBAI, March 10, 2011- As water resources continue to decline, the gravity of the issue often remains unrecognized and available solutions are not implemented.

Elaborating on this, speakers Upmanu Lall, Director of the Columbia Water Center at Columbia University, Mangesh Gupte, Head of CSR at ACC Limited, Suresh Prabhu, four-time member of the Lok Sabha in the Indian Government, and Kapil Narula, Director of the Columbia Water Center, India, spoke at The Race for Water: Securing Asia's Water Future. This programme was presented in partnership with the Columbia Alumni Association, the Columbia South Asia Centre, the Columbia Water Centre, the Council on Energy, Environment and Water, and the Centre for Environmental Research and Education.

Lall explained the problem of low efficiency in using water, predicting that innovation for improvement on this front would come from Asia, where the need for such solutions is critical. He underscored the necessity to spread information about the extent of the problem and available solutions, and to align the interests of groups such as farmers with better use of water.

Gupte stressed the need to ensure that the race for water is inclusive. He noted that the average person's water use has increased substantially over time, and that a range of solutions for more efficient water use are not being implemented. He also recognized the difficulty in selecting a solution that minimizes capital costs, energy requirements, and ground action requirements.

Prabhu emphasized how the complexity of the issue increased because of water being a limited resource, wherein more resources here necessarily means that there is less left elsewhere. He warned of an impending crisis, when people will demand water from their land which is currently being diverted today to other regions within the country. He also spoke of the need to create a centralized body with transparent accountability to manage water resources within India — now, there are 14 government departments overlooking this, and they all shift responsibility amongst themselves and to state governments.

Narula explained high levels of water stress prevalent today, and the livelihoods affected by it. This could lead to conflicts at all levels — between countries, between districts within countries, and between farmers and corporates. Simple, low-cost solutions that derive from traditional methods are available, but Narula lamented that there is a preoccupation with finding large-scale, technologically savvy solutions that are harder to implement. The focus, he said, needs to be on converting subsidies for farmers into incentives for them to use water more efficiently.

The race for water, Narula summed up, is indeed "a race against ourselves."