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Counting precious drops


WATER JOURNEYS Bruno Rouot, Attaché Science and Technology, French Embassy, says some Indian cities are just five or 10 years away from a severe water crisis

LAST TRICKLE Search for that elusive pot of water defines the rural Indian woman's life

It is coming slowly and quietly. Tantrums over water. The ones on oil have been resolved; you don't dislodge super powers easily. The international film festival Voices From The Waters is an alert to the more fundamental need, of quenching thirst. The films are the first such early alert in India and perhaps the developing world.

Bruno Rouot, Attache for Science and Technology, French Embassy, who is part of the panel meet at the festival, said parts of urban India, at least in the South, are heading for a crisis in the near future if groundwater level is not maintained.

"An Indo-French collaborative study, 14 kms around Hyderabad city, has shown by 2010 ground water level there could be severely depleted. If area for rice cultivation increases, it could be earlier. Rice tends to draw more water," Mr. Bruno observes.

The study conducted over a period of five years, he notes, is applicable to a city like Bangalore too, even if other variables come into play.

Dr. Laurent Barbiero, Scientist at the Indian Institute of Science, says another study conducted in the Gundlupet basin, close to the Bandipur National Park, is showing gradual fall in water levels in the forested area. This, he says, will be one among the many studies on water flow in South India.

There is yet another study being conducted by French scientists with Anna University in connection with wastewater.

"There are three projects underway now. There are five permanent French scientists in India and our focus will be on water levels in the Deccan Plateau owing to the extensive granite/stone beds in the area," Mr. Bruno observes.

Interestingly, French scientists have also done and are doing collaborative studies on water in Brazil, Cameroon, Niger, Burkinafaso, Zimbabwe and are about to begin in South Africa. There are 25 scientists in the Gulf too. When you acknowledge that French scientists are contributing to the important cause of conserving water in so many countries, Mr. Bruno is alert. "Yes, but you should know it is collaborative. We are good at picking data. Your scientists are good at research too. And your institutes are well-funded for research. It is really a 50-50 effort. We cannot instruct or tell your political leaders what to do. The data is there for everyone to see." Like the film.

Is water a crisis only in the developing world? Dr. Laurent says in the U.S. and Europe current population density and water sources do not pose a problem at present. But you point out that a part of the developed world has the problem and worked it out cleverly. Not the U.S. or Europe, but South East Asia. Singapore has no water source.

It receives water from Malaysia, filters and bottles the water and sells it back to Malaysia. South Korea has bottled water that is fairly expensive. Japan drinks bottled water all the time and from the ocean.

Simple: not too many water sources. Dr. Laurent agrees: "Japan drinks deep sea water — water 4,000 metres below sea level. That is because mineral content after treatment is the same.

And bottled water there is five times expensive compared to what we have here." But he also points out that India is looking at the treatment of seawater close to the shore.

But the developed world is not the serious problem. The developing world is. Does it have the technology to stave off a massive unrest that could emerge from water? That is in case it doesn't have enough rivers?

Like it or not we have a billion here who need water. When you turn the tap and not a drop trickles in, you feel doomed.

For the likes of us, can we really understand, as Mr. Bruno repeatedly points out, what scarcity means?

The films presented by Water Journeys, Bangalore Film Society and Alliance Francaise, tell us about water scarcity, distribution and management right next door and of those far away.

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