When you’re having a decade-old debate that is, almost by its nature, inconclusive, you need to keep looking for new points that can help buttress your argument. As a result everything that’s happening in the news is immediately appropriated and spun, usually by both sides.
Take the grand Indian sickular-bhakt debate.
More incidents of firing along the Line of Control? Bhakts, as Modi supporters are known online, can prove that the new government is being tough on Pakistan. Coast Guard intercepts alleged “terror boat”? Sickulars, as progressive have come to be labelled, argue that the authorities are trying to oversell a small smuggling bust. Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament says every Hindu woman should have four children? Bhakts insist the sickular media is trying to distract from the development agenda of the new government.
Muslim terrorists open fire in the newsroom of a French magazine known for provocative satire? Proof that Islam is an intolerant religion and that the world must do something about it (Bhakt). Or, further evidence that those who display intolerance when it comes to free speech are encouraging further violence. (Sickular).
Bhakt:The OpIndia staff for example gleefully collected the responses of “Indian liberals” to point out how they are sticking to script. “Indian ‘liberals’ are as predictable as religious bigots. As soon as Islamic terrorists barged into the office of Charlie Hebdo... one thought they would shed their predictable behavior of being apologist for Islamic terrorists,” the libertarian website wrote. “But one was expecting too much.”
Friends in India who wrote editorials on *FoE in Danger* with PK protests, see #CharlieHebdo for what ATTACK ON FOE really looks like.
Sickular: The liberal brigade, meanwhile, inevitably tried to connect the French terror attacks to events in India, whether they were the recent protests about the controversial film PK or the intolerance of the Bhakt army on twitter.
A day like this gives collective orgasm to Hindu Right loonies in India.
Now this happens internationally as well. The Charlie Hebdo attacks have brought up a broader debate about how to condemn terror attacks like the ones in Paris while also making a point that the content which provoked it was racist. That debate mostly presumes you have to fall on one side or the other: either you condemn the attacks and implicitly endorse the content or criticise the cartoons and thereby applaud the terror. So there’s nothing new about this sort of binary thinking.
What is more troubling is the ease with this George W Bush-stamped narrative ‒ you’re either with us or against us ‒ has begun to spread. It’s exacerbated by social media, of course. When the armies, Bhakt or Sickular, decide to take you on, it’s almost impossible to insist on a nuanced point of view.
Again, this isn’t a problem for, say, the discerning Twitter user who curates her timeline carefully. But, as more and more journalists, policy-makers and politicians start to spend time on social networks, they have begun to tailor their approaches to the kinds of discourse that is common on there.
To give you an idea of where this might lead, take a look at this story about how divided the United States has become over the last few decades.
America is so polarised that the Conservative-Liberal divide, their version of Bhakt-Sickular, even extends to which movies ought to be winning Oscars or how murder trials should have ended or who gets to own basketball teams. There is no crossing-the-aisle, you’re either on one side or another to such an extent that those on either side have begun to self-select.
Liberals and conservatives don’t just disagree with each other in America. They also have begun to view each other as a threat to the country, have become much less likely to compromise and have even stopped living next to each other.
Despite the views of some, particularly in the aftermath of Narendra Modi ascending to the prime ministership, India is not even close to being there yet. You can still find people who will eat beef and yet be annoyed by PK or others who joined in with Swach Bharat but think Ghar Wapsi is a dangerous phenomenon.
But America once had plenty of people who would identify with opinions on either side as well. How long before nuance disappears from India?
India’s urban water crisis calls for an integrated approach
We need solutions that address different aspects of the water eco-system and
involve the collective participation of citizens and other stake-holders.
According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.
Water challenges in urban India
For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.
Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:
Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.
Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.
Water pollution and contamination: In India,almost400,000childrendie every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.
A holistic approach to tackling water challenges
Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.
The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:
Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.
Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.
Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.
Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.
Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.
Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.
Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.
For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.
BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.