More than sixty years ago the government of India began partnering with farmers in the northwestern region to increase farm productivity and crop diversity. By introducing high yield rice and wheat varieties coupled with government irrigation projects, farmers in the region dramatically increased the productivity of their farms. Today, the state of Punjab is known as the “Bread Basket of India” providing over 60% of India’s wheat and 40% of its rice. The success of Punjab has encouraged the government to expand its agricultural development programs to the rest of the country.
Unfortunately, all of the growth has come at a great cost. As irrigation turns deserts into arable fields, as existing reservoirs are misused, and as industries drink deeper and deeper, India’s water is rapidly disappearing. India leads the world in depleting its natural water sources. The ground water level is dropping dramatically, in some areas as much as a meter every year. That means poor villagers are forced to dig their wells ever downward. Though farmers know that the water is disappearing, pressure from the government and concern for their children’s well-being compels them to continue misusing the water.
India’s water is being used faster than seasonal rains can replenish it. Almost 85% of India’s accessible water is contaminated. In a place where more than 200 million people have no access to clean water, every drop is essential. Improper sanitation and agricultural runoff allows for waste to seep into water sources making them unusable. A lack of legislation allows for big industries to drain local aquifers while contaminating rivers and lakes.
Water is vital for life; it is inextricably connected to a person’s well-being. Polluted water can carry a host of contaminants. Minerals and heavy metals deposited from industrial waste, nitrates from agricultural runoff, and pathogens from improper sanitation all wreak havoc on a person’s immune system. Every minute someone in India dies from a water related illness and almost 90% of those affected are children under 5. Thousands of people die every year because they don’t have access to the most essential element for life.
This most essential and abundant resource, the element upon which all life depends, is denied so many. Thousands of lives are lost every year, simply because they have no access to clean water. We hear the words of Christ echo that he has living water so that no man will ever thirst. Though a metaphor, these words are painfully relevant to the reality faced by the majority of India’s marginalized people.
Alongside the Bible and other forms of development, India team members are learning about water, how to use it and how to preserve it. With sustainable agriculture, farmers can reap greater harvests using less water so their wells will not run dry. With basic sanitation, mothers will not have to fear giving their babies a bath. With simple interventions children will not die of dehydration, or diarrhea from waterborne illnesses. Water is a most basic right of all men and we can stop it from slipping through our fingers. Our cups are filled so that we can bring living water to the thirsty.
Written by: Nick Moore