There is an excellent series about India and water in The New York Times (and its global sister publication The International Herald Tribune), including separate articles by Somini Sengupta about the immense problems of flooding during monsoon rains, an intensifying agricultural crisis as wells dry up, and the Indian government’s systemic inability to deliver sufficient water to the immense and growing populations of its cities, a crisis once largely limited to the urban poor but now broadly afflicting even the middle class in New Delhi, India’s capital and richest city.

All three pieces are well worth reading. Sengupta’s basic case is that the world’s second most populous country is teetering on the brink of collapse of fundamental systems and ecological services necessary to maintain human life. That’s without even considering new pressures that will come as the result of global-warming induced climate change or rising sea levels.

Continuation of unsustainable rates of population growth in India also goes without saying, of course, but responsibility for this must rest at least partly on insane policies of the U.S. government, complying with demands from the Catholic church and the religious right, to cripple efforts of the UN agencies and NGOs engaged in family-planning work.

The fruits of these short-sighted policies are beginning to manifest as expanded and unnecessary human suffering, but in all likelihood we haven’t seen anything yet.

  • Despite abundant rainfall, the average per capita availability of water for India’s 1.1 billion population is the same as for the average Sudanese;
  • Wells are drying up in nearly 17% of India’s groundwater sectors or else are critically close, up from only 1.7% twenty years ago, forcing the government to ship drinking water hundreds of miles by rail to waterless towns in parched districts such as Rajasthan;
  • No Indian city can provide public water for more than a few hours a day, and the limited water available is often contaminated;
  • More than 700 million people in India lack adequate basic sanitation facilities;
  • An estimated 2.1 million children under the age of 5 die every year largely due to the lack of clean water, according to the United Nations.

Unfortunately, the excellent graphics that appear with the print versions of these articles don’t seem to be available online.