While researching and reporting A River Runs Again (aka Elemental India), I explored small-scale, across-the-landscape solutions for water crises in India. Even just a few years later, the world is warmer and there are more people in need of water. When the major South Indian city of Chennai, where my father is from and where many in my extended family live, ran out of piped water during its current drought, I wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about how India might consider a new approach to development that might embrace the methods I wrote about in the book. Here’s how it begins:
India’s water crisis offers a striking reminder of how climate change is rapidly morphing into a climate emergency. Piped water has run dry in Chennai, the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and 21 other Indian cities are also facing the specter of “Day Zero,” when municipal water sources are unable to meet demand.
Chennai, a city of eight million on the Bay of Bengal, depends on the fall monsoon to provide half of the city’s annual rainfall. Last year, the city had 55 percent less rainfall than normal. When the monsoon ended early, in December, the skies dried up and stayed that way. Chennai went without rain for 200 days. As winter passed into spring and the temperature rose to 108 degrees Fahrenheit, its four water reservoirs turned into puddles of cracked mud.
Some parts of the city have been without piped water for five months now. Weary women with brightly colored plastic jugs now await water tankers, sometimes in the middle of the night. On June 20, the delayed summer monsoon arrived as a disappointing light shower.
These water crises are now global and perennial….