The Age of Information Technology?
Do you know how much water your country has in its lakes, rivers and wells? Do you know the same about your state? Or maybe your city? Do you know where to get all this information from or whether it is updated and reliable? These were the questions put forward by Rajendra Singh, an expert in traditional rainwater harvesting at a conference held in the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur. There were no answers.
In the 18th century, a king in the Indian state of Rajasthan devised an innovative way to communicate information about the quantity of water available to his subjects. For the people living in this dry state at the edge of the The Great Indian Desert, water was easily more precious than gold.
The king built a lake called Amarsagar, adorned with beautiful stairs and statues made of stone. The lowermost statue was that of a lion, while a little higher stood an elephant and still higher was perched a horse. When the level of water reached the head of the lion, the community knew that a month’s supply of water was available. When water climbed to the level of the feet of the elephant, word would go around that the community had enough for two months. If the elephant got submerged, people knew they could survive for six months. In the rare case of the water level rising to the feet of the horse, there would be widespread rejoicing because the community knew it had abundant reserves of water.
Contrast it with today, where we do not have authentic information about our water resources, and we do not manage water as a community.
“Worldwide, water observation networks provide incomplete and incompatible data on water quantity and quality for managing water resources and predicting future needs,” declares the World Water Development Report 3 released this year.
Moreover the problem is not just about a lack of good data but the widespread reluctance to share even what is available. With hydrologic data, this is largely because of inadequate national administrative mechanisms, issues related to commercial use of the data, security concerns and political sensitivities about transboundary resources.
Add to this the erosion of a community approach to our natural resources over the centuries and it becomes clear why unsustainable practices have become a way of life.
This has to change. Investments in continual assessments of the status of water resources cannot be put off any more. Communicating the data in an easily digestible format to the stakeholders is no less important.
In an age of information technology, cloud computing, instant messaging and Internet communities, we have absolutely no excuse to be clueless about our water resources.