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July 06, 2008
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July 06, 2008

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Home > 2008 Issues > July 06, 2008


A new paradigm in the context of global crisis?II
Unaccessible and iniquitous distribution of water

By Dr Murli Manohar Joshi

What has been the result of pursuing the economic policies directed towards sustainable development, a world out of balance, tormented by increasing violence and galloping inequalities.

It may be well recognised that the levels of consumption available to about twenty per cent of the world population have created serious distortions and threats to the global sustainability.

Sanitation and water are closely linked. Without water it is impossible to think of sanitation and cleanliness. The report describes the pitiable condition of 2.6 billion people across the globe.

?? Some 1.1 billion people in the developing world do not have access to a minimal amount of clean water. Coverage rates are lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa, but most people live without clean water in Asia. Deprivation in sanitation is even more widespread. Some 2.6 billion people?half the developing world?s population?do not have access to basic sanitation.

The minimum threshold is about 20 litres a day. Most of the 1.1 billion people categorized as ?lacking access to clean water? use about 5 litres a day?one-tenth of the average daily amount used in rich countries to flush toilets.?

The distribution and use of water is totally unfair and iniquitous. The Human Development Report, 2006 has underscored this aspect in following words:

?High-income households use far more water than poor households. In Dar es Salam, Tanzania, and Mumbai, India, per capita water use is 15 times higher in high-income suburbs linked to the utility than in slum areas.?

And further,
??Measured on conventional indicators, water stress is increasing. Today, about 700 million people in 43 countries live below the water-stress threshold of 1,700 cubic metres per person - an admittedly arbitrary dividing line. By 2025 this figure will reach 3 billion, as water stress will intensify in China and India ? Less visible, but no less detrimental to human development, is the rapid depletion of groundwater in South Asia. In parts of India, groundwater tables are falling by more than 1 metre a year, jeopardising future agricultural production?.?

?Future water-use scenarios raise cause for serious concern. For almost a century water use has been growing almost twice as fast as population.?

Proper availability and access to at least the minimum quantities of water if denied impinge upon the human dignity as well. The following statement in the Report describes the injured feeling of those Indians who have been denied the basic facilities required for a dignified human existence.

?We feel so dirty and unclean in the summer. We do not wash our clothes for weeks. People say, these Dalits are dirty and they smell. But how can we be clean without water?? Spoken by a low-caste Indian woman, these words capture the relationship between human dignity and water.

It may be well recognised that the levels of consumption available to about twenty percent of the world population have created serious distortions and threats to the global sustainability.

The result of pursuing the economic policies directed towards sustainable development has been a world out of balance, tormented by increasing violence and galloping inequalities. The report of the conference on re-defining the American Dream held in 1995, has in a poignant manner brought out the fact that the highly unequal levels of consumption have contributed to the worsening of the violent situation, putting many persons under high security prisons, many rich people in caged compound and everybody in insecurity.

As remarked earlier, Global trends in the disparity of consumption have shown that the gap between the rich and the poor has widened from 30:1 in 1970 to 74:1 towards the end of the twentieth century, and even today the trend continues in the same direction.

Meanwhile, in USA itself, serious concern has been expressed that the continuation of the prevailing American Dream is not really improving the people?s sense of well being. This is what a small but vocal group of Americans had to say during a conference in April, 1995 in Airlie, Virginia convened for ?Re-defining the American Dream?the Search for Sustainable Consumption?:

?We recognise that high per-capita consumption of natural resources in our country threatens global sustainability. We Americans now consume our body weight in raw materials each day - materials extracted from farms, forests, grasslands and mines. Our current materialistic definition of the American Dream is both an integral cause and consequence of much else that ails our nation. Our commercial media are saturated with consumerist messages and gratuitous violence. Our civic institutions have been eroded by a ?me-first? kind of individualism. Our sprawling high consumption neighbourhoods are effectively community proof - they put us in our cars ten times day and engender isolation. Our financial house is out of order with a giant national debt and equally massive personal debts. Our tax codes and government expenditures reward resource consumption, pollution and habitat destruction, penalise work and savings and amplify inequality. America is now the least equitable of industrial democracies.?

In a paper presented at the ?Population Summit?, October 1993, New Delhi, Nathan Keyfitz and Kevsten Lindaht Kiessling had commented on the lifestyles and their impact on consumption patterns and environment. The authors had remarked: ?There is some variation in what middle-class people regard as important components of the good life. When an Indian or a Burmese has completed his life?s work and amassed the wealth he needs, he often settles down to a life of meditation and prayer. The typical western couple in retirement may choose world tours, or trips in their own country by car or trailor. Obviously, modern travel uses more energy than does meditation, and energy use places burdens on environment. This extreme example is not a proposal in favour of meditation, but only an example of divergent consequences for the environment of different ways of life, all apparently satisfactory to the individual?.

Lindaht Kiessling, in a paper published in 1992, had also discussed the issues of population - environment linkages. He had remarked, ?We must re-awaken to the reality that quality of life is based on creativity, cultural and artistic expression, spirituality, reverence for the natural world and celebration of life and is not dependent upon increased consumption of non-basic material goods?.

What are the implications of this imbalance? I have been cautioning during my addresses to various international fora that the concept of unlimited growth on a limited planet is untenable. I have always argued in these conferences that the consequences of this imbalance are frightening. If there is one single cause to produce global turmoil and grave threat to world peace it is this imbalance produced by unsustainable consumption of the developed world. In an education conference held in 2003 in India in which representatives of UNESCO and International Financial institutions had participated, I pointed out this increasing imbalance and the attitude of the developed world which instead of reducing the gap was responsible for widening it, the World Bank representative handed me the speech by James D. Wolfensohn, President, World Bank Group delivered to the Boards of Governors in Dubai in September 2003. This speech is a confession that the present world economic order is against the poor and the deprived.

Wolfensohn arguing for rebalancing the world had said:
?Last week, in Paris, I met with youth leaders who represented organisations with more than 120 million members worldwide. The meeting also included rural youth and street kids, children orphaned by AIDS and civil conflict, youth from the excluded Roma community, and young people with disabilities.

?They met in peace and with mutual respect. They asked why our generation could not do the same.

?They said, we are ready to be part of the solution, to be partners. But, they also said, we do not want a future based only on economic considerations ? there must be something more. They challenged us about values and beliefs.?

Wolfensohn further said:
?To respond to them, we must address the fundamental forces shaping our world. In many respects, they are forces that have caused imbalance.

?In our world of six billion people, one billion own 80 per cent of global Gross Domestic Product (GDP), while another billion struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. This is a world out of balance.

?There is further imbalance between what rich countries spend on development assistance ? $56 billion a year ? and what they spend on agricultural subsidies ? $300 billion ? and defence ? $600 billion.

Arguing further about the casual attitude of the developed countries in going back on their commitment for poverty reduction Wolfensohn goes on to say,

?China, with 1.3 billion people, will achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals. India, with a billion population, is on track to meet the poverty goal.

(Excerpted from the speech at first national seminar organised by Arundhati Vashishtha Anusandhan Peeth. Dr Joshi is former Union Minister for Human Resources Development, Science & Technology and Ocean Development Government of India.)
(To be concluded)

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