Martin Zehr on India, Shiva and Water

New Mexico Green Mato Ska aka Martin Zehr has written for some time at OpEdNews.com. In a pre-view to an article he will publish there next week, Ska kindly sent this along for GPW visitors to enjoy first.


State control of resources and resource management has always been accepted on the basis that the public will can be more readily integrated with water management and allocations and diversions. Today there remains an additional concern for Greens and local water users. The disproportional influence of developers, Realtors and the home construction industry in local elections requires that structural reforms be made in resource management and urban planning issues. In addressing the position of Vandana Shiva and others on privatization of water and the World Bank there becomes a glaring contradiction between the needs of complex societies and water management. I include an article by the World Bank to provide a link between the accuser and the accused. The comparison is interesting if only in the context of the inadequacies of Vandana’s critique of globalization that are vague and nebulous.

Vandana Shiva suggests in her article: “We would not be facing water problems if people have been allowed to have their economies, to practice sustainability and to live their lives.” I have to admit to some confusion here but would suggest that Vandana is substituting rhetoric for a specific review of concerns regarding existing policies. It also appears as if industrialization is presented as the root cause of contemporary water issues. “Industrial agriculture has depleted water resources … Every step in the water crisis is due to greed. As the water becomes increasingly scarce, the corporations who control the water become richer.” (Vandana)

Montek S. Ahluwalia reports a more varied approach for agricultural and water policies in India: “An important implication of the new agricultural strategy is that it involves a substantial increase in public investment. … It is essential to reverse these trends, especially for public investment in irrigation and water resource management.” Further, instead of Vandana’s generalized claims real issues are presented: “Poor maintenance leads to loss of water through seepage, with the result that water use efficiency is very low–around 25 to 40 percent instead of the 65 percent that should be attainable. Low water charges also encourage highly water-intensive crops at the upper end of the canal network, leaving tail-end portions starved of water.”

The World Bank paper presents a review of the existing water infrastructure in India that is fraught with danger for the future. Groundwater mining, surface water quality, wastewater treatment, water leasing, and the glaring need for innovative and consistent water law are issues that were likewise demonstrated in the regional water planning in the Middle Rio Grande. The solution it proposes is to reduce governmental authority in the area of water management in order to establish an effective utilization of revenues. Unfortunately for the World Bank, even their own report contradicts this alternative when it characterizes India’s infrastructure investment as producing “spectacular results”.

The issue the World Bank report raises is that the government has failed to maintain that infrastructure. This is a criticism that can be leveled of state authorities within the US as well as India. Witness the failure to reinforce the levees of New Orleans. The solution to this failure is not to increase the private investment of corporations at the risk of the public good. Rather, the solution lies in bioregional authorities that are elected and proportionally represent the stakeholders in the region. The solution includes establishing a water budget for each of the regions. The amounts on the water budget need enforcement and they need an agreed upon public welfare statement that reflect the regional priorities for allocation of the resource by their stakeholders.

The fact is that in the tax-cutting atmosphere of the US in the last thirty years, there have been profound impacts on social services, education, housing, health care, public utilities and resource infrastructures. There have been dire consequences in every sphere of public investment. Montek documents similar profound needs for agriculture in India: “The investment requirements of irrigation are massive. Completion of all unfinished projects alone is estimated to cost approximately US$20 billion. In addition, provision must be made for new irrigation projects (large, medium, and small), which together will require about US$45 billion. The total requirement is therefore about US$65 billion.”

This brings up the issue of financing of water management. The state has the authority to increase revenues in order to invest in upgrading and maintenance of pipelines, investing in new technologies, implementing urban conservation. Water severance taxes provide such a mechanism to do so. It will not be without negative consequences. For India, Montek’s report for the International Food Policy Institute suggests: “The solution lies in rationalization of water rates to ensure adequate financial resources to cover maintenance and use of participatory irrigation management to give farmers a stake in the operation and maintenance of the system.”

Such pricing may impact on the poor and it may impact on corporate investment and jobs. These impact factors need to be considered in the review of revenue enhancing policies to maintain the infrastructure and to increase water conservation. The fact is that as aquifers are depleted through groundwater mining, there will be a serious impact and risk to geological subsidence, greater vulnerability in fault line regions to earthquakes and an inability to recharge the aquifers through natural process dangerously decreasing the supply of water. In these circumstances, there is NO consolation for the poor.

The solution does NOT lie in privatization nor in existing municipal or state management or administrative entities. The issue lies in establishment of new political bodies that begin to address urban planning and resource management. This also takes the issue out of the hands of local developers, home builders and real estate interests who currently have a disproportionate influence in local governmental entities. Montek presents it this way: “Community participation is critical to impart ownership and ensure an acceptable distributional outcome.”

The radical chic of Vandana Shiva is a bottomless bucket when it comes to water issues. It just doesn’t hold water. To address future demands and conserve present supplies means investing in new solutions and not simply finding convenient scapegoats or glamorizing primitivism in food production and water utilization. Politics is the missing element of NGO advocates and social workers, like Vandana. Structural reform in water management is outside their perspective. Rewriting of water laws is not within their range of vision. Water planning is not even at the bottom of their agenda. A political party needs to present these changes through its candidates and implement them through its elected public officials supported by the general public. Looking at it politically requires a willingness to look towards the people for solutions and not towards new heroes of the media.

Mato Ska has spent ten years as a volunteer water planner in the Middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico and has been an active Green since 1993.

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  1. I recently did a research paper on the Chipko movement in India that prevented the felling of Himalayan forests. Vandana Shiva is an inspiring figure in the eco-feminist and anti-globalization movements. I would SO love for her to start a Green Party in India. (It’s pretty surprising in a nation of 1 billion people that there appears to be no Indian Green Party)

    I love the site guys! Totally better than TPW! Keep up the good work.

  2. We sure could use more writers. Interested?

    Afterall, if you don’t put it here, I’m just going to steal it!

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