Thursday, January 25, 2018

Mahadayi/Mandovi River, Water and Bandh

Mahadayi/Mandovi River. Photo is taken from Wikipedia
Today, its Bandh in Karnataka. The expectation is that even state capital - Bangalore - which is generally free from all bandhs/strikes is going to shut down at least partially. Schools will be closed; transportation services might take a hit; many companies already declared tomorrow as a holiday (many of those who didn't declare tomorrow as holiday asked employees to work from home).

Mahadayi Water Dispute

Reason for this bandh is a river dispute between Goa and Karnataka (Maharashtra is also a party to the dispute). River in question is an interstate one known as Mahadayi (more popularly known as Mandovi outside Karnataka). This river originates from Belaghavi district of Karnataka; after flowing for 29 km she enters Goa and flows another 52 km through Goa before embracing the Arabian Sea at Panjim (Panaji).

What Karnataka demands is a diversion of 7.56 tmc ft water under ‘Kalasa - Banduri Nala’ project by building dams or barrages. This is to fix acute water shortage problems in Gadag, Dharwad and Belagavi districts of Karnataka. This water will flow into Malaprabha River. Goa opposed Karnataka's move and took the dispute to Supreme court, which led to the creation of ‘Mahadayi Water Disputes Tribunal’ in 2010.

2016 July, tribunal's verdict came. It was against Karnataka. Goa’s objections are mainly based on possible damages to ecology and wildlife, but the real fact is state’s fear about dwindling water supplies and meeting future demands after all Mandovi is the lifeline of Goa.

Water Crisis in Northern Karnataka

The problem in Karnataka is, the state is facing acute water crisis in northern areas. Ten northern districts of Karnataka are worst hit. People are migrating to cities in vast numbers as continuous draught ravaged agrarian economy; recent drinking water shortages only worsen the crisis. As per a report on TOI, “According to unofficial estimates, 5% to 10% of the population migrates every year from North Karnataka, even during normal monsoons, but this year the migration is higher by 2%-3%. The reason, officials say, is that drought, coupled with the drinking water crisis, is so widespread that farmers with large holdings of 5-25 acres have also joined migrants, having lost two crops to the drought”

If 2018 monsoon also failed, then it's going to be a catastrophe in Northern Karnataka. By the way, water situation is not good even at the southern tip – Bangalore. Governments are not acting fast enough to resolve the crisis. They often come up with grand schemes like pumping water from one river to another, building grand canals etc. These are only temporary fixes. For this to work, rivers from which you are pumping should have a good supply of water in the first place. It may be so for some years, but human-made damages to river’s catchment area will soon affect that as well. Diverting Yettinahole to east or any other river to eastern areas are not going to fix the problem.

Water is not something which can be manufactured like shoes or cars or mobile phones. What is important is understanding the role of ecology and the need to balance it. Even if Karnataka gets its demanded share, it is not going to fix the issues in the twin cities of Dharward-Hubli. In the same way, even if Goa is successful in opposing the agreement, Mandovi is not going to be there forever. Extensive and unregulated iron ore mining already made considerable damages to Goa's environment.

Do these governments ready to do go for more extensive (but less glamorous) solutions like preserving local lakes (Bangalore have so many lakes even now, unfortunately, many lakes are so polluted that even water catches fire), extensive rainwater harvesting system, recharging groundwater systems, modern irrigation systems, recycling water, solid waste water management etc?

It is equally important for states on both sides of Western Ghats to sit together and hear the scientific opinion on how to preserve whatever left of Western Ghats. At this point, I don't think, governments are ready to walk the talk or even ready to do what has to be done. Instead, are engaging the grand projects like interlinking rivers, which is only postponing the eventual crisis.

Already multiple water wars are taking place in India. 

1. Krishna - Between Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Maharashtra
2. Godavari - Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Telangana, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh
3. Narmada - Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat
4. Cauvery - Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry
5. Vansadhara - Andhra Pradesh and Odisha
6. Ravi & Beas – Sutlej-Yamuna Link Canal- Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh
7. Mullaperiyar - Kerala, Tamil Nadu.

In many disputes, tribunals were set up and verdict also came, even though it took decades. But, there will be a clause for review in every 8 or 10 years. We are going to see a new fight whenever those contracts are up for review.

Grand projects and destruction of Water Systems in Greater Middle East – What Should Not be our Future

For those who only believe in grand schemes should read how water scarcity and destruction of wetlands forced crisis in Western Asian countries; and even the recent street protests in Iran.

The Tweet Trump Could Never Send Tehran - NYT

"Over the past three decades, Iran has built 600 dams.. an average of 20 a year.. to irrigate farms and provide power... Poor planning and 14 years of drought have rendered many of them useless and, in some cases, they have contributed to environmental damage in the semi-arid country...”

"Once some farmers found they no longer had water for their crops.. because aquifers had been overused, or water had been diverted to big agribusinesses ... or too many dams had been built and then warmer temperatures shrank the lakes behind them and nearby wetlands... many of the farmers migrated to the margins of cities in search of employment, food and water...These cities, where employment is scarce, have become hot spots of unrest"

“In the mountains of western Iran, the province of Chaharmahal-Bakhtiari is known for mile-high lagoons, flowing rivers and wetlands that attract thousands of species of migratory birds. But years of diminishing rainfall have shriveled water sources. Conditions worsened, residents say, after Iranian authorities began funneling water 60 miles away to the lowland city of Esfahan"

"Lake Urmia was once a giant saline lake, 87 miles wide...Beginning in the 1990s... started building lots of dams around the lake...Now the lake, once one of the largest in the Middle East, looks more like a gigantic crime scene...Its dried salts now mix with sand, fueling toxic wind storms."

Between 2006 and 2011, some 60 percent of Syria’s landmass was ravaged by the worst drought in the country’s modern history. It came after years of overpumping of aquifers...That drought forced 800,000 to one million Syrian farmers and herders to abandon their land and livestock and move to the edges of Syrian cities and towns, where they had to scrounge for work.... they were among the first to join the revolution against it.

"It was not an accident that the chant in the Egyptian revolution was: “Bread. Freedom. Dignity.”


A diversion will address the problem in short-term; the existential crisis in Northern Karnataka will not be over but only get postponed to a later date.


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