Will we ever, I wonder, learn to use fresh water responsibly? Watching taps run continuously while a man shaves or a kid brushes its teeth, I can only cringe, and ask myself “does it really take so much extra effort to turn off the tap when it is not being used?”
In fact, this is just another example of how little attention we pay to things around us, on a daily basis. Most of the people I see routinely and unconsciously wasting water are far from callous or unfeeling as a rule. In most cases they are even better than average, more sympathetic, feeling, thinking individuals. Why then this complete lack of thought where water use is concerned?
Well, its part of a larger malaise. Based in the “taken for granted” sense of entitlement of the HAVEs, the same mentality that makes middle class and affluent Indians waste food on a daily basis, makes them waste water. After all, “I can afford it”. I can buy all the food I want so I can throw away or waste masses of it everyday, I have round the clock running water so I can afford to let it run down the drain as much as I want. So who cares if I am wasting world resources in a criminal manner? So what if half the world dies of starvation and thirst? “I can afford it”. So, a couple I know actually takes pride and brags about the 1300 litres of water they use EVERYDAY!!!! To them, its an example of how clean they are, and how well off, that they can afford to pump that much water into the tanks each day.
To me, its just criminal wastage. Fresh water is already a fast depleting resource. Add to that the very thought of the people who don’t have access, and its pure crime to waste so much of it. And I am not even talking about women in The Thar who walk twelve kilometers to get water for their families. Most people don’t have the imagination or the empathy to even dream of how tough such a life must be. I am talking about people you can see around you everyday, your domestic help, slum dwellers, pavement people. Fresh, clean water is as inaccessible to them as an easy life or the gravy train.
Its strange that Indians seem so hell bent on wasting water, when traditional Indian methods of water use are actually quite conservation oriented. Bucket baths waste a lot less water than showers or bathtubs, washing clothes and utensils in a pond is much less wasteful than what my bai does with the constantly open tap while she soaps and rinses each vessel. Ponds and lakes also allow water to seep down and percolate into the ground water, another advantage of such systems.
Urban living has changed everything though, and the privileged members of rural societies have followed their leads. Because villages are so LS and so “poor y’know”, the whole focus of urban life is to get as far away from rural systems and lifestyles as possible. So, showers are de rigueur, and water bodies are just so much landfill waiting to happen so that someone can build another multi-storied complex. On the other hand, we neither care enough, nor seem to know enough, to adopt urban methods of conservation. Something as simple as turning the water off while we run the razor over the chin, brush up a storm in the mouth, or lather up while bathing, is something that doesn’t even seem to occur to us!
Overhead tanks routinely overflow and the excess runs straight into the gutter for minutes at a time, (have myself watched it happen for 40 mins in one case) before the pump is switched off. The common staircase, lounge and foyer areas in many residential societies are regularly washed with running water piped over them, when a good stick-mop, wielded well, would do just as good a job. Car owners encourage drivers to use a hose or buckets upon buckets of water to clean the cars when a hand held moistened wipe would give the same results. And no, we don’t recycle water. We do not store kitchen runoff to water the plants, we prefer to hose in good fresh water direct from the overhead tanks.
At this rate, water running out is not such a far off eventuality as most of us seem to think. And, (as I said in Harvesting rainwater may solve some of India’s water problems) world war three may not be so far away.