Water canal

Water was over. The sun was beating down our backs and a red-yellow, dried, mountain trail was around us. Our trek should have ended before sunrise, it was mid-day now. The desperate need for water was terrifying. Luckily we knew we'd get water and other beverages at the end of our long trek.

A twelve hour trek with the hope of water at the end is perhaps a journey one is willing to take if that is the only way to get water. It might seem absolutely acceptable to those who have to go days maybe even months without water. Not just water for drinking and sanitation needs, but water that will give them good harvest.

It's World Water Day and the state of Maharashtra is facing the cruel reality of a severe drought today.

Maharastra-droughtAlmost every news article will tell you that it's the worst drought after 1972. So far 7,075 villages are living without water. The regions affected include Marathwada and the infamous Vidarbha region among others. Drought and the consequent debt was the main reason for farmer suicides in Vidarbha. Not much seems to have changed.

With all its history of drought and grief, one would expect the state government to be extra cautious with the very precious water resources. However, it's more realistic to expect the exact opposite to happen in our country.

Investigative reports done by news channels have revealed a scandal of sorts in the states' water allocation agenda. Dam projects are complete on paper, but a not-very-useful, incomplete, concrete structure is seen on land. Since the records say it is done, it's considered done. A committee is now looking into this irrigation scam.

The more worrying trend however is the large number of coal power plants coming up in the same drought prone area. All of these are very close to the water resources. Of these, 71 thermal power plants are planned in the Vidarbha region. Thermal power plants use and pollute water bodies around them. So once they get their clearances (which most of them have already), the drought will become permanent for the people in this region.

thermal power plants in maharashtraThe pump house of a thermal power plant is built on the shore of the Upper Wardha dam waters, Amravati district.  © Vivek M / Greenpeace

Yes, the cities and the villages need electricity. They need water and food too. What do we do?

Use a source of power that does not take away water and hence food. Renewable energy is no longer a thing in the future. It is in fact, right in time.

Remote villages in the resource starved state of Bihar have solar powered homes. Germany is also using the same source of energy. Maharashtra's capital is the commercial capital of the country. The state is among the top five in the country which have high wind energy potential and has comparably high solar radiation levels. Harnessing solar and wind energy should not be a daunting task for this state.

Once we start letting the sun power our homes, we reduce our dependence on coal. Less usage of coal will lessen the need to destroy more forests. Most of our rivers are forest fed, so more forest cover will give us more fresh water sources. Fewer thermal power plants will reduce the toxic emissions that are choking our atmosphere, thus bringing us closer to the doom of climate change. For people in drought prone areas it will mean more availability of fresh water for irrigation and personal use.

No one will ever deny that water is the most precious resource. A twelve hour long, water-less trek was enough to confirm that for me. Those who face the drought know it even better. Those who are going to create more such droughts who need to know that they should not be trifling with water.

Happy World Water Day.

Images: © Vivek M / Greenpeace

Swati Mehta is a Web Editor at Greenpeace India.