The Mudumalai sanctuary, close to my home in the Nilgiris, South India, has been declared drought stricken. As we drove back from Bangalore and into the sanctuary, I noted with a sinking heart the parched, brown grasslands, generally so verdant and welcoming. Very few animals were around; they were searching desperately for water sources. Elephants everywhere have been straying into villages, in search of food and water, causing havoc. In Assam, an elephant was shot dead after it killed four people and destroyed some houses.
My conservationist son tells me that in the old days elephants died because there was no water. Now, apparently, we have a higher than viable elephant population in the Nilgiris because in times of drought, and every summer, the forest department puts out water to save the animals. It has raised the debate: should we intervene to prevent elephants from dying, or adopt a laissez-faire, let nature take its course attitude? That’s material for another entire blog post.
At home I’ve shut down most of my garden. I conserve water, and we have done this through many, many summers, by standing in a flat tub and having an Indian-style bath. We pour two mugs of water to wet ourselves, soap and then rinse off with minimal water, then use the conserved water in the garden. All the washing-up water is saved for the garden, too.
Bangalore, once famous for its mild, salubrious climate, is going through its worst summer in years. It’s unprecedented for it to be so hot mid-March in India. In the Nilgiris, no-one ever used fans. We didn’t need them. Now, with the mercury rising everywhere, we are told global warming means things will get worse, not better.
Bangaloreans have been asked by the civic authorities to stop taking Western-style showers and revert to traditional Indian balti (bucket) and mug water-saving ways. The younger generation has become used to Western-style luxury. They don’t even know the old frugal ways because India has changed so much in one decade. So will they respond to the full-page newspaper adverts begging Bangaloreans to save their city?
I’ve watched rich folks in fancy city apartments totally oblivious to the water shortage. They pay exorbitant rates for tankers to bring water to their apartment blocks, so consider it their right to use as much as they want. The taps gush water, wastefully, while down the road slum women wait, pots in line, to carry home cooking and drinking water for their families. We need loads of ‘how to save water’ adverts to educate the new rich, because they are not even aware that they are being wasteful.
Every summer, I watch with sadness my beloved, precious garden drying up. Now I’ve gone on a drive to get plants that survive without watering. Fortunately, the brilliant, vibrant bougainvillea thrives in difficult, arid terrain. I know I’m being trivial worrying about my flowers when there are far more serious issues at stake.
I’ve followed New Internationalist forecasts for decades, predicting that there would be water wars between nations. And in our own state, Tamil Nadu, we have had a decade-long battle with neighbouring Karnataka about the sharing of the Cauvery river water. There’s concern about what will happen if China builds dams which prevent rivers from winding down to us.
So, while I hope that the larger picture, global warming and the world water crisis, is dealt with at appropriate levels, I also hope more and more people, Bangaloreans and others, try to work out innovative, local solutions to save our cities and our water. We don’t have many choices now.