Amid a desert of volleyball-sized boulders, Jibi Pulu bounces his Tata jeep over a trickling nullah. In his childhood, just 30-odd years ago, this stream used to irrigate his family paddy fields right here in the flatlands and provide fresh water to his ancestral village in the hills above the floodplain of the Dibang River, a major tributary of the Brahmaputra.
In the state of Maharashtra, irrigation is sparking social unrest and political turmoil, and the battle for water is about to get worse. Ajit Pawar, the Nationalist Congress Party leader and former Maharashtra deputy chief minister, resigned in September after the release of a report, from a committee commissioned by the state government and headed by the retired Principle Secretary of the Water Resources Department, Nandkumar Vadnere, that alleged far-reaching improprieties in water allocation and the implementation of irrigation projects in the state.
For a long time now, centralized solutions for India have appeared to New Delhi’s bureaucracy as easier to manage than local initiatives. It would of course be naïve to think a return to indigenous ways is the only answer in a country that is on track to become the world’s most populous within a decade or so. But for millenniums, the distinct regions of the subcontinent developed ingenious ways to manage their water, and they prospered. Retrieving those methods, perhaps reinventing them, could give rural Indians some control over their destinies, even in the face of the wrenching changes wrought by globalization and the continued warming of the planet.
A report released today, the fifth anniversary of the blockade of Gaza, from the charities Save the Children and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) describes how Gaza's water supply is heavily polluted by fertilizer and human waste, and states that nearly all of the water in Gaza is "unfit for drinking."