A few days ago, there was a resident’s association meeting at my apartment. The secretary announced, “There are 60 flats here. With the ground water level going down drastically, we need to buy water this summer.”

I wondered about the number of apartments in the city and the tankers we would all need for our daily use. My thoughts digressed. It took me back to July 2012, when I photographed drought and river systems in Tamil Nadu.

Parched earth

I had read serious reports on the failure of the southwest monsoon and drought. I realised this was one of the worst situations the State faced. This led me to probe further- from where does Tamil Nadu receive water? This is one question I always ask students at outreach programmes.

I travelled across Tamil Nadu to document rivers and reservoirs that supply water. I was witness to an inconvenient truth in the course of that journey. Three major rivers in the state- Cauvery, Vaigai and Thamirabharani were almost dry. Farmers fretted over their fates on barren lands. The elderly walked about three miles to fetch water for their most basic needs. The earth was so parched I could almost hear its wails through the cracked soil.

Who are we to blame?

Who are we to blame for this situation? The success of the monsoons and the Western Ghats are interconnected, but we seldom realise this. The rivers that provide water to millions of people in South India originate from the Western Ghats. Sometimes, I feel, we have been bred to consume at the destination without worrying about the source. When we are faced with water shortage, we simply rely on commercial vendors who take water from small villages and sell it to us. This takes away their right to supply of water.

I then asked myself if we have a role to play here. Have we brought ourselves to blame for this situation? Are the forests in the Western Ghats just a distant mystic biodiversity hotspot? Disturbing a forest’s ecological balance is not only nature’s problem. It is a problem that affects every individual and the nation. If this had worried us 30 years ago, we would not be facing this crisis today

History is replete with examples of lost civilizations, where natural resources were exploited until they were all used up. We could still make a change if we use our resources efficiently. It is said that the demand for water in India will almost double by 2030. If we use up all our natural resources, where will we get our water from?