Wednesday, 21 August 2019

The Asiatization of Life - India

As a doctoral student in the Faculty of Economics and Politics in Cambridge, England, in the late 1980s, I enjoyed Professor Amartya Sen's seminars long before he was awarded the Nobel Prize. In a later work, he summarised and evidenced his main thesis that democratic societies do not suffer famines. It is something that we ought to remember now that many dogged imbeciles come at us with the pathetic lie that the Chinese Dictatorship "has raised millions of people out of poverty". Repeatedly on this Blog we have sought to show that "that simply ain't so" - and that indeed it will not be long before famine returns. Economies are very difficult to co-ordinate in the absence of some form of democracy. Totalitarian societies such as the Chinese Empire is at present can only survive if they have access to vast human and other resources that they can exploit. As these resources run out, the Chinese Dictatorship will seek to supply the shortfall through imperialist expansion - by exerting direct control over the resources of other countries - which is exactly what the Belt and Road Initiative is meant to do. As we can all see, even this "outlet", however, is proving inoperable because, first, the targeted nations are quick to react, and second because the capitalist West is much too strong an obstacle to any Han Chinese imperialist velleities.
Of course, the Western capitalist system has problems of its own. The export of "overpopulation and consumerism" that is the hallmark of capitalism is now rapidly lowering the living standards of so-called "emerging markets" - rebounding on our own Western parliamentary democracies. A New Global Deal is needed to avert the looming catastrophe.

By David Fickling | Bloomberg 
July 8, 2019
As a child in 1943, the Indian economist Amartya Sen watched one of the worst famines of the 20th century sweep through his native Bengal. Contrary to the popular image, the disaster didn’t manifest as a widespread shortage of food, he later wrote. The middle classes hadn’t “experienced the slightest problem during the entire famine,” which primarily affected “landless rural laborers” instead. 
That observation carries an important lesson for India as it runs short of a commodity even more fundamental than grain: water. As Sen showed, famine doesn’t simply result from supplies running out, but from prices being pushed beyond the reach of the neediest. Similarly, India’s current drought isn’t happening so much because of an absolute shortage of water, as its misallocation and mispricing.
That’s shown most dramatically by the crisis in Chennai. While the city is now dependent on importing water by tankers to slake its thirst, India simultaneously has the title of the world’s biggest water exporter: 
So-called virtual water exports – the molecules of H20 embedded in exported goods, alongside those rendered unusable by the production of those goods – amount to a net 95.4 billion cubic meters a year, according to data collected by the Water Footprint Network, a group that encourages thriftier usage. This makes India a bigger exporter of water than far better-endowed countries such as Brazil, Russia, the U.S. and Canada, and represents nearly four times the 25 billion cubic meters consumed by India’s households and industrial enterprises.
Most of that comes down to the fact that India’s largest agricultural exports are rice and cotton, which both require thousands of liters of water for every kilogram of product. Sugar and water buffalo meat, two of the other leading farm exports, are also water-intensive.
There’s no scarcity of these crops in global terms. India blocks rice imports with tariffs and typically sends about 10% of its crop overseas. That puts the country on par with Thailand for the title of biggest exporter and contributes to a worldwide glut of rice, expected to hit a record 172 million metric tons in the 2020 crop year. Cotton prices have fallen 20% over the past year, with a global stockpile equivalent to about 60% of consumption. Sugar hit its lowest price in a decade last August.
Putting so much water into fattening rice grains and swelling cotton bolls seems a criminal waste of a precious resource that urban areas are crying out for. As my colleague Mihir Sharma has written, 21 Indian cities will start running short of groundwater by next year, including New Delhi and Bengaluru, while 200,000 people in the country die each year because of a lack of access to safe water.
If India wants to grow the economies of these cities, it needs to provide the basic resources necessary to make them function. Yet while urbanites are having to watch every sip they consume, farmers are living high on the hog. About 70% of agricultural water use comes from groundwater, much of it pumped out of the soil with heavily subsidized, coal-fired electricity and then used in a notoriously wasteful fashion.
In the Chennai basin, about 79% of water is set aside for agriculture and livestock farming, with just 11% going to domestic use and another 10% to industry. Nationwide, the figures are even more tilted toward the farm sector. In a country where a third of the population lives in cities, agriculture uses about 90% of fresh water, compared with 64% in China, 60% in Brazil, and 44% in Nigeria. 
One view is that this uneven allocation is simply the price India pays to support its rural poor. That’s not quite right. The farmers who have access to pumped groundwater aren’t typically low-income smallholders, but larger-scale rural business owners with the collateral to finance purchases of pumping equipment.
These figures constitute a powerful political grouping that has resisted measures, such as power metering and more generous diversions to cities, which are needed to avert India’s urban water crisis. The rural poor don’t do so well. If anything, small-scale farmers reliant on hand-drawn wells are even worse off when the water table is being pumped away for nothing by their wealthier neighbors.
That status quo may be on the verge of breaking. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has vowed to give every household in the country access to piped drinking water by 2024, a target that will inevitably require farms to take a smaller share of the pie. Worse, climate change and the ongoing over-extraction of groundwater are already pushing the system to a breaking point. 

It’s the same old story that Sen observed. As in 1943, India’s poor and landless (whether in urban or rural areas) are the ones who suffer, while the wealthy and landed prosper. If Modi wants to deliver on his electoral promises, that’s going to have to change.


By 
Bill Spindle | Photographs by Gareth Phillips for the Wall Street Journal
Aug. 19, 2019 10:27 am ET
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LEH, India—The Ladakh region of northern India is one of the world’s highest, driest inhabited places. For centuries, meltwater from winter snows in the Himalayan mountains sustained the tiny villages dotting this remote land.
Now, like many other places in India, parts of Ladakh are running short of water. A tourism boom has sent the summer population soaring, and the region’s traditional system of conserving water is breaking down.
Water crises are unfolding all across India, a product of population growth, modernization, climate change, mismanagement and the breakdown of traditional systems of distributing resources. India is running out of water in more places, in more different ways, putting more people at risk, than perhaps any other country.
Nearly all of India’s biggest cities, including New Delhi, the nation’s capital, are rapidly depleting their groundwater reserves, and 40% of India’s people could lack drinking water by the end of the next decade, according to a 2018 report by NITI Aayog, a government-policy think tank.
In Ladakh, making matters worse, the winter snows were scarce last year. In the fields above the city of Leh, tensions ran high.
Wheat farmer Tsering Wangchuck, 67, regularly rose at 3 a.m. to send water into his fields before others living at higher elevation awoke. At times, he had to march back uphill to confront a neighbor who had arrived later to redirect the water his way.
“You had to check all the time,” he said. “It was frustrating.”India is the 13th most water-stressed country in the world, but its population is triple the combined population of the other 16 countries facing extremely high water stress, according to the World Resources Institute, a nonprofit group with offices around the world that tracks water use and other global environmental and resource issues.
Water resources in India have been mismanaged for decades. Critical groundwater resources, which account for 40% of India’s water supply, are being depleted at unsustainable rates, the NITI Aayog report said. Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for India’s rain-dependent farmers.
By 2030, water demand in India is projected to be twice the available supply, according to the report. “If nothing changes, and fast, things will get much worse…with severe water scarcity on the horizon for hundreds of millions,” the report said.
In the southern city of Chennai, drinking water reserves almost completely dried up this year. Although a 200-day streak with no rain ended recently, the first month of the annual monsoon brought one-third less rain than the 50-year average, which makes it the driest June in five years, according to the India Meteorological Department.
Two of Chennai’s four reservoirs went dry, and the other two nearly did. Millions of residents of the city, India’s fifth largest, with a population of about 10 million, have to get their drinking water from trucks—either sporadically from government vehicles or by purchasing it from private companies.
In the agricultural heartland of India’s northern plains, where almost one-third of the country’s food is grown, farmers generally pay little or nothing for the groundwater they use or the energy needed to pump as much as they desire. That has led them to plant water-intensive crops, creating shortages, especially during lapses in the annual monsoons, that endanger the country’s food supply.
Two of the four reservoirs in the southern city of Chennai went dry, and the other two nearly did. PHOTO: ATUL LOKE/GETTY IMAGES
Various Indian states are locked in legal and political battles with one another over the control and use of water flowing through the nation’s legendary rivers, such as the Ganges.
Some tourist centers have run short of water. Last year, in the former British hill station of Simla, dozens of hotels had to cancel bookings and temporarily shut down, and the city’s major summer festival was canceled. Government schools were closed for 10 days because they lacked water for the children and teachers.
“Until now, it’s been relatively easy to increase supply without thinking too much about demand. But parts of India are beginning to hit the natural limits of water supply,” said Mervyn Piesse, manager of the global food and water crises research program at Future Directions International, a research institute based in Nedlands, Australia. “Unless there is a reduction in the rate at which those resources are being used, they are eventually going to run out.”
Beset by the multitude of water problems, Prime Minister Narendra Modibegan his second term recently by appointing a ministry of water, combining previous ministries that oversaw wetlands and riverways development and drinking water and sanitation.
A warming climate is making water supplies more unpredictable throughout the Himalayan region, upon whose watershed some two billion people ultimately depend. A recent study by a nongovernmental organization that focuses on regional developmental issues, called the Hindu Kush Monitoring and Assessment Program, warned that glaciers feeding rivers in the Himalayan region could start disappearing after 2050.
Ladakh, which borders China and Pakistan in the nation’s far north, became a formal Indian state earlier this month when the central government separated it from Jammu and Kashmir. It has long been isolated, especially in the winter, when many roads snow over and temperatures drop well below freezing. In the 1970s, the Indian government opened the region to tourism, drawing a trickle of mostly Western travelers who came to trek and to visit the ancient Buddhist monasteries along the Indus River.
Then came a 2010 hit Bollywood movie called “Three Idiots.” The final song-and-dance extravaganza had two Indian megastars reuniting in love along the shores of Lake Pangong, then a small-time Ladakhi tourist attraction. Indian fans of the movie flocked to Ladakh to visit the lake.
The number of visitors to Ladakh, which has a year-round population of only 133,000, has soared fivefold since the movie came out, reaching 327,000 last year. Most stay in Leh. Local tourism officials and hoteliers say many of the new tourists, unlike the adventure travelers who preceded them, tend to stay in hotels where they shower twice daily and use flush toilets instead of the waterless dry-pit latrines traditional to Ladakhi villages. They also favor vegetables such as tomatoes and peppers over the region’s traditional potatoes and barley, which require far less water to grow.
The new tourists consume about 25% more water per person than longtime residents during the summer and double what the average resident uses in the winter, when cold weather curtails running water, according to Iftiqar Ahmed, an engineer in the Leh government’s office of Public Health and Engineering, which oversees water use.
A hotel building boom in Leh has increased the number of rooms since 2010 to 16,000, from fewer than 2,000.
In need of a constant water supply, the new hotels drilled their own wells. By the time authorities started monitoring wells last year, they estimated hotels were pulling up more than a million liters of water a day during the June through August tourist peak, from ground water reserves fed by melting snow and glaciers, said Mr. Ahmed. They now account for 20% of the water used in the city, he said.
Outside Leh, where farming still underpins village life, water has long been treated as a precious commodity. To preserve it and assure equal distribution, the villagers appoint water managers, known as churpons, to oversee the collection of snowmelt into catchment ponds and dole it out through an ancient network of canals and sluices that run downhill past family farm plots. They ensure that families with plots at higher elevations who get the water first leave a fair share for families with plots at lower down.
In Saboo village, where some 300 families live a few miles outside Leh, Jigmat Stanzin, 47, has held that job, which rotates annually among village families. “We can’t waste a drop,” he says.
April to July 2018 were anxious months in Saboo. Villagers decided the home gardens that provide food to most households should get water first, then water would go to apricot and apple trees, which would take a decade to replace if they died. Then, wheat and barley fields, and, finally, the poplar trees used as building material.
Mr. Stanzin and a team of five other churpons worked around the clock. Some fields weren’t planted and some crops were stunted. But the village made it through.
Leh, however, stopped using churpons in 2015 as farming gave way to tourism and other development. Mr. Wangchuck, who tends the family’s farm with his wife, couldn’t plant half his fields, forcing him to buy feed for his cows. His family cut back on what they ate and had less to sell in local markets.
The city itself came to the brink of catastrophe. Some hotel wells went dry as the paltry snowmelt failed to recharge underground springs fast enough.
As many as 100,000 seasonal migrant workers reside in and around Leh during the summer. Nearly all of them live in areas where water must be delivered by tanker truck, once every three days.
Longer term, Leh has an $11 million project to pump drinking water from the nearby Indus River. The project was planned in 2006, to be built through the year 2042, for a summer population projected to be 84,000 by then. But the summer population already is at least 90,000, Mr. Ahmed says. The project timeline has been accelerated for completion two years from now.
Until it is completed, water needs will be met with a patchwork of delivery systems. Some 4,500 households now have drinking water piped to their homes a few hours each day as part of the plan to deliver drinking water to all homes. During the winter, though, the pipes can freeze if they aren’t drained at night.
Tanker-truck deliveries will continue to thousands of other households. Residents store the water in plastic vats that they have taken to padlocking to prevent theft.
Stanzin Namgyal, 52, grew up in Leh and is trying to revive the churpon system to supply meltwater to remaining farmers and the many residents with home gardens. Yet for the 23-room hotel he is building in the city center, he intends to bore wells. “I’ll need one well, maybe even two,” he said.
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Last year, Leh began requiring residents and businesses to register their wells, but only a fraction of them did so. This year, the municipality is conducting inspections door-to-door to try to get an accurate count.
The eventual goal is to charge a fee for wells, and ultimately to begin metering and charging for water usage, although officials concede such measures may be years off.
Sonam Parvez, who also grew up in Leh, opened a 20-bed hotel and heads an association of some 300 hoteliers. When his parents operated a small guesthouse in Leh decades ago, he said, their water was allocated under the churpon system.

“The churpon system is people coming together and trusting each other,” he said. “With the coming of the present day, that trust is gone because everyone is tapping into the bore well system. Everybody thinks there’s free water down there. Last year, for the first time, Ladakhis discovered there’s no free water.”

People, companies forced to save water in parched India cityBy Emily Schmall | AP 
August 14, 2019
CHENNAI, India — For retired Indian civil servant R. Devarajan and his wife, Chennai’s acute water shortage has reinforced the wisdom of their decision years ago to install a rainwater harvesting system in the three-story home where they live and rent out units to others.
For months, their neighbors in Royapettah, a working-class neighborhood in Chennai, have crowded the streets waiting for the public water delivery trucks to come, often foregoing a day’s wages in order not to miss their limited share of five or six jugs per day.
But unlike many residents in the southeast Indian city of 10 million, the Devarajans and their 50 tenants have an ample supply.
“I cannot depend for all things on the government. So I’ve done my duty as a senior citizen,” said Devarajan, 74. “Not a single drop of water, if rain comes, we will never waste it. When monsoon fails, we’ll not suffer for that.”
His wife, Padmini, added that even with the water surplus, they are careful not to waste any, watering plants with the excess from washing clothes and dishes.
Receiving most of its annual rainfall during a two-month autumn monsoon season, Chennai routinely experiences droughts and floods. Exacerbated by climate change, the city’s booming population has far outpaced its public water supply, forcing individuals and businesses to embrace private solutions.
The water shortfall is disrupting life and commerce at all levels.
Rapid development and rampant construction have overtaxed a once-abundant natural water supply, forcing the government to spend huge sums to desalinate seawater, bring water by train from hundreds of kilometers (miles) away and deploy an army of water trucks to people whose household taps have run dry for months.
A drought in the summer of 2001 led the then-chief minister of the state of Tamil Nadu, of which Chennai is the capital, to mandate that all residential buildings find a way to harvest rain by August 2003.
Sekhar Raghavan, a trustee and co-founder of the Akash Ganga Trust, which funds a model rainwater center in Chennai, said a survey the trust conducted at the time found that about 40% of households had complied with the order.
But in the absence of strict enforcement, the systems were not maintained, said Raghavan, who provides free advice and consultation on rainwater harvesting. “Now I get almost 20 calls every day asking me to come and help them with harvesting,” he said.
“It’s really picking up — now they want to do it for themselves, not for the government sake, but for their own sake. So that is a welcome change that I am seeing. Because of the water scarcity, people have realized they can no longer waste rainwater,” Raghavan said.
Rainwater harvesting is one solution, but better maintenance of public water systems, including fixing leaky pipes to expanding sewer treatment plants, is also critical, said Isher Ahluwalia, the chair of the New Delhi-based Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations and a frequent op-ed contributor on water issues.
“Rainwater is a gift of God, but water coming from your tap is not so. For that you need to invest in distribution networks and then you need to maintain those assets,” Ahluwalia said.
Image without a caption“Most of the middle-class people have found private solution to a public service water delivery failure by investing in underground tank and booster pumps. They are thus able to get 24/7 supply from their taps even when the municipal government supply is only for a few hours,” she said, speaking not only of Chennai but many of India’s water-scarce cities. “There is a certain apathy that develops when you’ve found a private solution. You don’t look at the public service collapse. People who really suffer are the poor who are not connected, and they end up buying water from the tankers at a premium.”
At a 400-apartment government housing block in Chennai on the banks of the Cooum River, a water body so polluted that it’s considered dead, there is no rainwater harvesting system, according to resident Jarina Bee.
“I know that rainwater harvesting is very important, but we don’t know what is the government plan to harvest rainwater,” Bee said.
Still, Bee and others can fill jugs with free public water when the delivery trucks come through on their daily rounds.
Not so for those residing outside the metro board’s coverage area. In the village of Pallam, just outside Chennai, some 70 families draw lots to determine when they can draw from a communal well. Normally, there is no limit on water, but now, community leaders have rationed each family to two or three jugs per day, supplemented by a weekly visit by a municipal water truck that fills one plastic drum per household.

In Chennai’s gleaming, 45-kilometer (28-mile) IT Corridor, some companies have already developed in-house water recycling systems. The Madras Chamber of Commerce plans to conduct a detailed water supply and demand analysis at two industrial areas in hopes of developing a road map that can be adopted widely among its 700-plus members.
“This may be a long-term solution, but at least we would like to set the thought process so that we avoid such situations in the future, if not immediately,” said K. Saraswathi, the chamber’s secretary general.

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