23/04/2015 8:12 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Thirsting For Blue Gold

Photo by cuellar via Getty Images

Growing up in California, I became aware of the precious resource that is water at an early age. And while I learned to take quick baths, I didn't consider discontinuing the time I spent in the swimming pool. Although I had a limited awareness about conserving water, unlearning habits that waste water has taken far longer than I'd like to admit. Today California is said to have just a year left of its water.

Perhaps it was in Palestine where I truly understood how priceless water is. And also how difficult it is to access. The World Health Organisation recommends that people need 100 litres of water per day. However, because Israel controls Palestinian aquifers, including the eastern aquifer and the Jordan River, which are located in the West Bank, Palestinians are only allowed 70 litres per day (for Palestinians rural areas the allotment can be as little as 20 litres) where as Israelis consume on average 242 litres per day. Much of that water enables Jewish settlers to water their green lawns and fill their swimming pools, meanwhile Palestinians must ration water so they can balance their needs for drinking, cooking, bathing, and farming. And farmers who harvest rainwater in cisterns routinely find Israeli bulldozers destroying their water sources. In Gaza it's much worse, largely because of the way Israel's wars have destroyed its infrastructure and imprisoned its population; they too are fated to be out water by 2016.

A few summers ago I took the Thirsting for Justice campaign's challenge to try to see if I could live on just 70 litres, but I failed miserably: from bathing to laundering clothes to cooking to flushing to the toilet I ended up using 138 litres. But that was the point.

"Rather than returning to colonial collaborations, India could do much better to look to its own history of living sustainably."

Water has been on my mind here in India, too, as I spend much of the year in Rayalseema where living in the rain shadow means that it is quite difficult to even rely on rain water harvesting. The Polavaram Dam project, which is in the works, promises to bring water flowing from the Godavari River to this water-deprived region of Andhra Pradesh. But is it worth the uprooting of thousands of Adavasis and villagers whose land will be flooded as a result?

The Colorado River and the Hoover Dam situated on it has routed water to California for much of the last century. While many are worrying about Californians' access to water, fewer seem to be concerned about the damage this dam has done to those plants, animals, and people living downstream in Mexico where the land has become parched.

It is the U.S. agribusiness and animal farming that have siphoned most of these water resources. Likewise, Israeli intensive water usage for its farming practices (not to mention Israel's use of Palestinian child labourers, much like the American use of Latin American child labour), guzzles water that could otherwise be used for Palestinian sustenance.

In the colonial context in Palestine, Palestinians who can afford it are forced to purchase water from Israeli corporations affiliated with the government like Mekorot. Mekorot both participates in the theft of Palestinian water as well as profiting from it.


It makes sense that California governor Jerry Brown welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu's proposal to cooperate on water solutions. But it seems rather odd that India may be on the verge of partnering with Mekorot and that India partnered with Israel for its water week earlier this year. Many Indians seem to buy into the mythology that Israel "made the desert bloom". Indians seem enamoured with drip irrigation, even though Indians were engaging in this practice centuries before Israel existed. Few seem willing to consider where the water Israelis use for farming comes from and whose land they're using to do it.

Rather than returning to colonial collaborations, India could do much better to look to its own history of living sustainably. I've seen incredible examples in the past year. Two friends live entirely off the grid in the drought-ridden area of Rayalseema. They routed all of their home's plumbing into their gardens, where organic fruits and vegetables grow by using their run-off water, water that won't harm the plants or the animals grazing on their land because they only use natural products like shikakai in their home. Another family I know living in Coorg runs Rainforest Retreat at Mojo Plantation where they, too, use all their natural resources to grow food, create biofuel, and engage in sustainable agriculture and rarely wasting a drop of water.

Clearly there is a relationship between living in a sustainable way and choosing not to engage with multinational corporations--especially when they're after your natural resources like the blue gold that is water. For it's not just about taking shorter showers. It's about fording those states and companies that guzzle our water to be accountable to the people and the environment.

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