OUR “DAY ZERO” IS NOT TOO FAR AWAY

about 10 months ago
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By Ruma Dubey

The scorching heat is upon us; May is still a month away but India is already parched. Farmers, who have spent years toiling on their fields thought they knew how to predict the monsoon but nowadays, even their experience has come to a naught. The weather bureau with all its modern gadgets gets its predictions right but neither the farmer nor the modern machines are able to explain unseasonal rains, heavy rains in places where it has always drizzled; sometimes it rains as though the sky have broken up and sometimes, when farms need a downpour, it merely drizzles. Thus farmers are facing more difficult questions – not whether it will rain enough or not but what to sow when and where?

Water, as many have been saying, could become the cause of major world wars in the future. Indian cities are already fighting with each other over river water sharing; it will only get acute as time lapses. Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) publishes the magazine, ‘Down to earth’ and in its latest issue has an ominous message – Bengaluru could head the Cape Town way as it is listed amongst the 10 cities in the world that might be on the verge of an imminent water crisis.

Apart from Bengaluru, the nine cities facing a “Day Zero” like situation are - Beijing (China), Mexico City (Mexico), Nairobi (Kenya), Karachi (Pakistan), Kabul (Afghanistan) and Istanbul (Turkey).

In India, data from the Central Water Commission (CWC) is enlightening. It monitors live storage status of 91 reservoirs of the country on weekly basis and is issuing weekly bulletin on every Thursday. As per the latest, issued on 16th March, the total water available in live storage of 91 reservoirs in the country being monitored by CWC was 51.389 BCM as on 15.03.2018. This is 32% of the total live storage capacity of these reservoirs and 90% of average availability during last 10 years. The CWC stated that the overall storage position is less than the corresponding period of last year in the country as a whole and is also less than the average storage of last ten years during the corresponding period.

Except for Southern and Northern India where reservoir storage in better than last year, the rest – East, West and Central India, storage is much lower than last year.

Thus as the summer comes scorching down, we all are once again forced to rethink projects abandoned last year - water saving aerators , build a sump, invest in a rainwater harvesting system, dig a private borewell, installing a recycling plant in the society. Symbiotic water management, desalination plants – all will become the norm. Farmers too are planting wisely – going for drought proof crops – more millets like raagi, jowar and bajra as they require less water; the same thing which their grandfathers at one time did only to be abandoned by the next generation for more money.  And in regions where there is excessive rain, many, especially in NE India are reviving dead and forgotten streams, which feed into the rivers going downstream.

All eyes will be on Cape Town – the city which was going to run out of water. Day Zero has been postponed to 2019. Why? The deferment is in part due to the city's intense conservation efforts over the last year, water donations from surrounding areas, and the scheduled opening of desalination plants. And big surprise… it actually rained pretty hard!

The way the residents of Cape Town came up with solutions to save water will become the rule for all cities to save water in the future. Residents had reduced water use from nearly 317 million gallons a day in 2015 to just 136 million a day in February 2018.

As the years roll, water will become as precious as oil, if not more. It would be no exaggeration to say that water will get transported through pipelines, not just in India as it is already being done but like oil, get imported.  Tankers will travel more to transport water and maybe across the seas too, like oil. Shortage of water is not just endemic to India but all over the world. There are very few countries which can all themselves “water abundant” and Canada ranks on the top. It has the same amount of water as China and just 2.3% of its population. Turkey exports water to Israel and Cyprus in large balloons that can hold up to five million gallons of water. Singapore buys 10% of its water from private-sector suppliers who have built desalination plants in order to reduce its reliance on Malaysia.

Where there is a scarcity there is an opportunity – that is how stock market views every crisis. There is a shortage of supply and demand is only expected to grow and that in simple economic sense makes great investment sense. And looking at a horizon of 7-10 years down the line, investing in “water stocks” makes perfect sense. There are only a few listed on the Indian stock exchanges. A quick look at some of them:

Thermax : The best and well known water management company. Order intake has picked up and future for the sector thus for the company, given its expertise is extremely bright.

Jain Irrigation: The company is the first and last name when it comes to drip irrigation and that is the way ahead and given its dominance in this field, it’s the company to watch out for in this sector.

ION Exchange: This company has been around for years and pioneered water treatment when no one was even thinking about it. It is one of the best bets when it comes to water treatment, supplying not just to the companies but to homes also. Indian Railways water, Railneer, which is pure and safe drinking water is supplied by this company.

Finolex Industries: It makes PVC pipes and as stated earlier, with water in the future expected to get transported by pipelines, this company could become a preferred choice.

VA Tech Wabag: Deslination is going to be the way ahead and this company has got the expertise and the experience. Chennai’s desalination plants stand testimony to this fact and they were set up by VA Tech.

The listed “bottled” water company is Mount Everest Mineral water which sells water under the brand name of “Himalaya”. This is now a part of Tata Global Beverages and thus has got an assured market through its Starbucks outlet for now.

Tata Chemicals: This Tata company has done a “Nano” in the water purifying sector with its Tata Swach water purifiers. With the starting price at Rs.899, going up to Rs.2000, the product is distributed all across Tata networks.

Shakti Pumps is a well-known name in installing solar water pumps in power and water deficient states. Its business is sure to pick up in Maharashtra and South India.

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