“New Delhi — Millions of people in the South Indian city of Chennai, the country’s sixth largest metropolis, are facing an acute water shortage as the main reservoirs have dried up after a poor monsoon season. Some schools in the city have cut working hours and dozens of hotels and some restaurants have reportedly shut down due to the shortage. 

The city of more than 4.5 million has been left to rely on wells and water brought in by truck. Thousands of wells dug across the city are leading to a rapid drop in the ground water level, and raising even further the concerns of environmentalists.

New wells are being dug as deep as 1,000 feet. Much of the water they produce isn’t even fit to drink.”

I cannot even imagine what it would be like  not having water on demand in my home.  What is happening in India seems quite alien to me, having never been through a drought or even a severe period of water rationing.  Living in Canada I have access to what will become one of the most sought after resources in the late 21st century, potable water.   Oil and gas are soooooo… 20th century.

I imagine my insular situation is being replicated in segments of Indian society as those who have the political and economic power are not feeling the water stress that the poor in Chennai are experiencing.  Given some of human nature, I would not be surprised if certain enterprising individuals were making a profit off of the shortage of water, selling a life sustaining resource to their fellow citizens…

“But the government trucks are only able to meet part of the demand, leaving the rest of the population at the mercy of private vendors, who appear to be making a killing off the crisis. A private truck carrying about 3,200 gallons of water would have cost around 1,500 Rupees (about $22) in April. Now such a delivery is going for about $85. 

Man uses a hand-pump to fill up a container with drinking water as others wait in a queue on a street in Chennai
A man uses a hand-pump to fill up a container with drinking water as others wait in a queue on a street in Chennai, India, June 17, 2019. REUTERS

Reghu Ram, a filmmaker who has lived in the city for eight years, told CBS News the cost of such a private water supply “would mean about 50% of the monthly income of a significant part of the population.”

Ah, my faith in capitalism remains unshaken.  God bless (and may they go well) those pioneering water entrepreneurs for helping fulfilling a basic need of Chennai’s citizenry (and procuring an earnest profit of course).

One can expect reckless profiteering and exploitation of the poorest members of society during any crisis.  Heady libertarians and advocates for a denuded state take note, this is endgame that you seem to be constantly striving toward.  It is neither just, nor humane.

“Water needs to be treated as a highly limited resource,” Vencatesan said. “There is a gap between government policy and the implementation.” 

An alarming report last year by the Indian government’s own research institute, NITI Aayog, warned that 21 Indian cities, including New Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad, would run out of groundwater by 2020.

The report also said 40% of India’s 1.34 billion people would have no access to drinking water by 2030. More than 600 million Indians are facing “acute water shortage” already, according to the report. 

And there it is folks.  First sentence.  “There is a gap between [(water conservation/management)] government policy and implementation.”  The Indian state has been ineffective in managing the water situation.  Lax regulations, corruption, and general malaise from the leadership within have allowed this crisis to boil over.

The simple point is this:  Those at the top of the hierarchy are not in jeopardy.  The water crisis situation has not been realized for them, and like me in Canada, they cannot really fathom the problem, and thus, even less the solution to the water crisis.  Therefore the machinery of state is not being effectively mobilized because those in charge do not feel the dire threat to their existence unlike those of the lower classes of society.  This is the disconnect that is being played out the world over, our hierarchies are unresponsive to the latent threats climate change brings.  This makes effective, coordinated responses difficult if not impossible to orchestrate.

Hierarchies activate when the threat level becomes serious enough that the perceived social and economic insularity suddenly falls away.  The elite’s inevitable “oh shit” moment though comes entirely too late to remedy the situation.  Then, of course, people die.

Let’s hope our elites here in North America are watching the situation closely in India, as their crisis will soon be our crisis.