Even though so many mighty rivers flow in Himalyan region which take water to such vast plains , it is a fact that many Himalayan villages face increasing and acute water problems. While generally these become more acute in the summer season, this year water shortages started being reported from earlier days in Himachal Pradesh, reflecting a wider trend. A quick review of newspaper reports in Himachal Pradesh during March revealed many such distressing reports.
An important aspect of several of these reports is that several such reports are emanating from villages where apparently investments in terms of pipelines and taps have already been made to take water supply closer to village homes. Despite this problems are arising because the sources which are supposed to feed these pipelines are drying up, or have been badly depleted and damaged.
One problem is that rains have been much lesser this season in various parts of Himachal Pradesh and this has led to lesser supply in water sources. But there are also more durable factors at work as serious water shortages have appeared even before the onset of summer.
Water springs and sources which flow close to most rural habitations have been the traditional source of water supply in many villages. But due to ecological ruin and felling of trees these water sources have been depleted. Another factor contributing to their decline is indiscriminate construction activity including highway and dam construction activity which has led to extensive damage to water sources.
In places where spread of chemical pesticides and fertilizers has increased greatly and where sanitation problems have not been handled properly, pollution of springs, streams and rivulets can occur leading to either water related health problems , or people being forced to avoid certain water sources, leading to more water shortage.
As water shortages increase, cases of conflicts between various communities regarding the sharing of a water sources have appeared which need to be checked at an early stage. In areas where urbanization and tourism have expanded rapidly, there is increasing pressure to meet the needs of urban settlements and hotels so that less water may be available in some water sources for rural communities.
Another serious issue is the increase in forest fires. More water is needed for extinguishing these fires but at times there is great water scarcity already in the affected area. Forest fires also adversely affect already depleting water sources .
Indiscriminate mining in rivers, streams and hills is another serious factor which reduces water supply in the lean season while also aggravating floods and other harm in the rainy season.
Thus there are many-sided aspects of the increasing water shortages and water crisis in the Himalayan region. Government schemes which emphasize only the aspects of pipes, taps and tanks will not provide any durable relief as the real problem is of saving water sources. If the water sources continue to get badly depleted, then from where will water come? The pipelines and taps will then remain dry. So the main focus has to be on saving water sources and this in turn is closely tied up with a path of development which gives adequate importance to protection of environment. This broader perspective can also take care of the water needs of wild animals and birds which too need attention. In fact when water sources in forest areas are depleted then wild animals and birds suffer in silence, or else turn towards human habitations which increases other problems.
Bharat Dogra has been involved closely with several social movements in hilly regions.