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Men may come and men may go 2
by Kumud Biswas Bookmark and Share
 
 

'Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.'

That the reserve of some of the physical resources of the earth is already very low and will be completely exhausted soon because of their steady depletion at an ever growing rate due to ever higher levels of their consumption by an exponentially growing population and modern technology is responsible for this is no longer a matter of opinion but a matter fact. Even the staunchest of supporters of existing technology will not deny this fact. It is also a fact that their exhaustion will lower our living standards because many of our luxuries and material comforts which the exploitation of these resources has made possible will no longer be available. But that will not endanger our survival, we will still be able to remain alive. There is however one physical resource, water, without which it is impossible to live. For man, water is the most important of all the physical resources of the earth. Without water to drink, man would not survive for more tan a few days. Virtually no human activity can take place without water, Not only man, without water it is impossible for any form of life to exist. Life itself is believed to have originated in water. This is the reason why it synonymous with life. And it is perhaps the most abundantly available of earth's physical resources. Roughly three-fourths of the earth's surface area is covered by water. Had this surface been flat and were all the water equally spread over the face of the earth in its liquid form there would not be any dry land and all the continents would be under water to a depth of one and three-quarters of a mile. It is omnipresent. It is found not only in oceans and lakes and rivers and streams but also under the ground and in the atmosphere. It is present even in rocks and minerals. It is also the most distributed substance on our planet; in different quantities it is available everywhere. It is very difficult to assess the total water resources of the earth because it is so very dynamic. It is always in motion in a cycle, called the hydrological cycle, constantly changing from liquid to solid or gaseous states in which it exists. It is in a process of continuous circulation from the oceans to the atmosphere, thence to the land and back to the oceans through evaporation, condensation and precipitation as rain or snow. It has been estimated by the experts that the earth's hydrosphere contains about 1386 million cubic kilometers of water. A staggering figure indeed but most of it i.e. 97.5%, is in the oceans and is saline and not readily usable. Only 2.5% is fresh water. Of this 2.5% about 68.7% is in the form of ice and permanent snow cover in the Antarctic, the Arctic and in the mountainous regions. Another 29.9% of that 2.5% is under the ground. Only 0.26% of 2.5% of the total water of the earth is in lakes, reservoirs and river systems where it is easily accessible to man for his various needs. It is also vital for those ecosystems which water supports.

Thus compared to the total water resources of the earth the quantity of fresh water available for our use is insignificant, yet until not very long ago it was more than sufficient for our needs. Its unlimited and free availability and natural purity produced in man a careless attitude towards its use. Today the situation has drastically changed but there has not been any significant change to that attitude. Because of the population explosion and technological revolution man's requirement of water, particularly after the Second World War, has increased manifold. The situation has been further complicated by the problem of its pollution which is largely the contribution of technology. Greater demands of larger populations necessitated drastic expansion in agriculture and industry, requiring more water for irrigation and industrial purposes. Compared to previous decades, during 1951-60 alone worldwide water withdrawal increased fourfold. Today this must have gone up many times. Surface water and traditional methods of withdrawal are no longer sufficient to meet our ever-growing needs. With the help of technology we are now 'mining' water from the underground aquifers. Such wanton interference with the hydrological cycle for more water is fraught with dangers. If the present proportions in which water exists in liquid, solid and gaseous states somehow get seriously disturbed or upset, the result could be catastrophic. Too much withdrawal of underground water, for examples, will lower its level and may cause local subsidence. Another grave risk in the withdrawal of underground water is its pollution by toxic minerals, particularly arsenic, which causes many painful and incurable diseases. The urban centers which are steadily expanding both in number and size and where such tapping of underground water is the greatest and is steadily increasing, are increasingly exposing themselves to these risks. Global warming has already caused the polar icecaps to start melting and as a consequence the water level in the oceans has risen by 8/9 inches within a very short time. If this goes on at an ever escalating rate many low-lying areas of the world will get permanently submerged. This will also make inland water more and more saline in coastal regions. According to the geologists very modest temperature changes caused glacial period in the past and they produced substantial changes in the oceans' levels. For example, Pleistocene-epoch glaciers and icecaps probably used up enough ocean water to make the sea level three hundred feet lower than it is now. The scarcity of water and the adverse impact of man's activities on the hydrosphere began to be acutely felt specially in arid and semi-arid regions and highly industrialized countries and a World Conference on Water Resources was held for the first time by the UNO in Argentina in 1978. This conference found that the crisis was already acute in one-third of the world located primarily in zones with insufficient moisture, and by the end of the century it will be felt throughout the world. Since then numerous scientific conferences and symposia have been held and studies made and it is the unanimous view of all that instead of abating the crisis is deepening every day and decisive action is urgently required to avoid a catastrophe of unprecedented magnitude. Some have even made the forecast that the days are not far away when water will be a significant source of social unrest, and nations will wage wars for water. How grim is the situation in respect of fresh water will be evident from the report, Global Environment Outlook-2000, recently published by the United Nations Environment Programme. The report prepared by the International Forum on Globalization about the commodification of water presents the same picture in more alarming details. Peter H. Gleick, Director of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security, has compiled a chronology of water-related conflicts which also shows how throughout history man has used water resources as military tools. It is not unlikely, so another study report of the Institute by Elizabeth L. Chalecki suggests, that in place of a high-rise building like the World Trade Centre, the terrorists' next target would be our sources of fresh water.

The earth is a 'closed system', like a terrarium, neither gaining nor losing much matter, including water. The physical resources of the earth continually change their states. But in this respect there is an important difference between water and the other resources. The cycles through which they pass in course of their changes from one state to another are not equal in duration. Compared to others the hydrological cycle is astonishingly shorter. And by virtue of this cycle water possesses two magnificent properties of self-renewal and self-purification which no other physical resource of the earth possesses . Because of this the same water is being recycled all round the globe. May be the water one is drinking today was used by someone else thousands of years ago in some other place for some other purposes. But the tonne of coal or the gallon of petrol we are burning today is irretrievably lost. As energy sources these fossil fuels are not renewable as wind, water or solar power are. It took them millions of years to from. And the tonne of coal or the gallon of petrol we will burn tomorrow will not be those we burnt yesterday. Whereas some of the water we are using today will get evaporated and in a few days will fall on the earth as rain and will be available for re-use soon. The time taken for renewal by water in its different states is, however, not the same; they are different. They are as follows:-
1. Sea water .................................  2500 years
2. Underground water...................  1400 years
3. Polar ice .....................................9700 years
4. Mountain glaciers .....................  1600 years
5. Ground ice of Permafrost zone..10000 years
6. Lakes .........................................17 years
7. Bogs .........................................,...5 years
8. Soil moisture ......................... ....  1 year
9. Rivers & Streams .....................16 days
10. Atmospheric moisture..... .........8 days
11. Biological water i.e. water in living animal bodies .......Several hours

Thus it is obvious that waters found in seas, underground aquifers, polar icecaps, glaciers and permanently frozen states take a very long time to renew. That is to say, a gallon of water withdrawn from any of these sources will take many years to get replenished. Moreover such withdrawal, if made on a very large scale, is dangerous. It will have adverse effects on the hydrological cycle which maintains a delicate balance among the different forms of water and affects and is affected by the climatic cycle. Nature, if left to itself, has great capacity of correcting any imbalance, but if there is too much interference in its normal processes, such imbalance may become irreversible and set in motion a chain reaction affecting the entire biosphere and there is no power on earth which can correct it. So man has to realize that the most important resource, fresh water, though apparently plentiful is not really so, and its careless use is dangerous to his survival.

Of all the sources of fresh water rivers and streams are the most important because their water is very quickly renewable and they are the most easily accessible largest source of fresh water. Early man instinctively knew the importance of fresh water because it was essential for his biological needs. He came to realize the importance of rivers for other uses first when from a hunter and fruit gatherer he became an agriculturist and found that irrigation made his field more fertile. With the progress of his civilization he came to realize their importance also for other reasons. As means of communication the rivers were magnificent highways needing no cost of construction or maintenance. As a source of power the flowing river water was inexhaustible. The silt they carried and deposited not only increased the fertility of his land but also built up and shaped the land itself, as Herodotus in the case of the Egyptian delta found out. Thus they became the foci of large human settlements and man's social and economic activities. Most of the early civilized societies grew up along their banks and valleys. The river valleys are still the most densely populated areas of the world. They satisfied his many material needs, yet early man's attitude towards them was far from purely materialistic. This is evident from the important role which rivers have played in the religious and cultural life of man from the earliest times. As a part of his nature worship early man worshipped the rivers also, believing that each of them was a deity. In the 8th hymn (sukta) of the 10th mandala of the Rigveda there is an invocation of the element water, attributed to a rishi called Sindhudwipa or Trisira, which gives us perhaps the best idea of the attitude of ancient people towards water. Here water is praised as the source of all happiness. By ensuring a good harvest it provides our food. It gives us rain which is heavenly. Like a loving mother it provides us, like her breast milk, everything that is pleasant and nourishing. It possesses not only medicinal properties to cure the diseases of our bodies but also spiritual powers to cure the diseases of our mind; it gives us salvation by redeeming us from our sinfulness. In its clean and potable state it saves the race from extinction. Hymn 75 of the same mandala of the Rigveda is the invocation of the river systems the Aryans found on their arrival in the north- west region of India: '5. O Ganga! O Yamuna and Sarasvati and Sutudri and Parushni! Share this my prayer among you! O river combined with Asikni! O Vitasta! Arjikiya, combined with Sushoma! hear my words. 'Riks 7 and 8 of the same hymn are exclusively devoted to the Indus and are remarkable: '7. The irresistible Indus proceeds straight, white and dazzling in splendor! She is great, and her waters fill all sides with mighty force. Of all the flowing rivers, none is like her! She is wild like a mare, beautiful like a well-developed woman! 8. The Indus is very young and beautiful. She is rich in horses, in chariots, and in garments; she is rich in gold and is beauteously clad! She is rich in corn and in wool and in straw, and has covered herself with sweet flowers.' With the expansion of the Aryan dominions eastwards the river Ganges came to occupy the most important position in the pantheon of river deities. Her origin is divine, her water is most sacred, she incarnates as a woman to bear some fallen godlings as her children, becomes the mother of kings and emperors, and she is the subject of a host of other myths and legends. Most celebrated perhaps of these myths is the one in which she is brought from heaven to the earth by Bhagirath for the redemption of the souls of his 60,000 ancestors. Because of this religious veneration of the rivers many cities along their banks became great places of pilgrimage. The ancient people not only paid homage to the rivers as deities but also loved them like their dear ones. They were given very charming names. In India rivers have mostly feminine names and they are very musical indeed. As if they are our loving mothers, sisters or daughters. Only turbulent ones which occasionally cause devastation by flood bear male names. They are like our wayward and mischievous sons. Geographically riverine regions are distinct and support distinct ecologies. The species of plants and animals which have evolved there are unique. The people living in such areas have also unique culture and characters. This is specially true in case of people who depend on river for their livelihood like fishermen and boatmen. Whether a place is healthy or not depends much on its rivers. Rivers have often inspired great literature. Out of an ordinary river pilot the mighty Mississippi made Mark Twain a great writer of immortal fame. The influence of rivers on writers is perhaps best exemplified by the writings of Rabindranath. It does not require much research to tell the difference between the writings he did when at Silaidaha and those at Santiniketan. One is thoroughly worldly while the other is otherworldly. At Silaidaha he is basically a poet deeply in love with the physical world, but at Santiniketan he is a sage looking beyond. He spent much of his time in boats on the river Padma and the bunch of letters he wrote from there to his niece Indira and later published in the Chhinnapatrabali is unique not only in Bengali but also in world literature. Recreational importance of rivers is also great. The blue-watered Yamuna could not have been only a passive witness of the frolic and fun which the cowboy Krishna used to have its banks with the milkmaids of Bridaban. As objects of nature the beauties of rivers have great attractions. Of all the places in his vast empire the same river Yumuna's bank was found by emperor Shahjahan most suitable for his Tajmahal.

As in the case of the world of nature as a whole, there has been a similar evolution of man's attitude towards rivers. Instead of being treated as living beings or deities today rivers are treated as mere inanimate objects of nature, another physical resource of the earth, to be exploited to meet man's material needs. And the origin of the growth of such attitude is not recent. It began long ago in prehistoric times when man first started to use river water for irrigation. Next to the taming of fire prehistoric man's greatest technological triumph was water management which consists of digging of canals and reservoirs and building of dams and levees. The early civilization of Sumer, for example, was built upon its people's ingenuity in utilizing the waters of the two great rivers of Tigris and Euphrates to irrigate their lands. Since then man has not looked back. Armed with his technological power man in his ever increasing numbers has gone on increasingly exploiting the rivers for various purpose in addition to irrigation. He has never thought that their over-exploitation is dangerous. This is because he has always thought that as sources of fresh water rivers are inexhaustible. Moreover the natural purity of water has made man think that he can go on polluting it as much as he likes. Today the exploitation of rivers and interference with their natural regime has crossed all reasonable limits leading to their steady degeneration. Instead of nourishing they are now threatening man's life. In ancient times itself the bad effects of over-exploitation of rivers became evident, but they were thought to be due to divine displeasure or curse. Sumerian agriculture flourished because of irrigation and Sumerians prospered in the land between the two rivers. They built an irrigation system of ditches for spreading the rivers' water over adjacent land after the flood water receded, using large counterweighted dippers for ladling the rivers' water up over the banks and into the ditches. The production of surplus grains gave them leisure and made it possible for them to develop religion, build cities, make golden drinking vessels and write poetry. But after some time their land became saline in patches, the underground water table rose through constant flooding of their fields, heavy silting raised the river beds and degeneration of the drainage system resulted. It is not known whether the Sumerian hydraulic engineers noticed these, but they were noticed by a poet who interpreted them as divine revenge for immoral human conduct. A lament written about 2600 B.C. records the defiling of the gods of Ekur by the victorious king of Agade and the kingdom was cursed as a result: 'Agade, instead of your sweet-flowing water, may bitter water flow.' And in good time the curse was fulfilled: 'Agade, instead of its sweet-flowing water, there flowed bitter water.' As the Sumerian soil's fertility waned and agriculture languished, so did the cities it supported. The fields never fully recovered; the cities disappeared. With slight variations the Sumerian experience was repeated elsewhere also in the ancient world. Some scholars have surmised that rivers had something to do with the disappearance of the Indus valley civilization. This is mainly because man has taken rivers for granted and has not been quite prepared to understand them properly. Even today most people understand them merely as water flowing along a channel between two banks. But in fact it is not as simple as that. Let us try to see in brief what they really are.

The surface of the earth is not smooth but rugged. Instead of being flat it consists of elevations like mountains and plateaus, and depressions like oceans and lakes, plains and valleys. It is the result of the primordial building activities of the planet which the geologists call tectonic processes that break, bend, and warp the earth's crust and create the various features of its surface. The tectonic processes are quite distinct from the forces of gradation or leveling, which operate through weathering and tend to wear down the surface to a common level. In this process of gradation the role of flowing surface water, among other factors like heat, wind, rains, storms etc., is the most important. By the law of gravity water that falls on the ground either as rain or snow called precipitation flows from higher to lower ground. On the uneven surface of the earth the ridges and elevations operate as dividing lines called water divides and areas bounded by them form distinct regions called watersheds or catchments or basins which drain themselves of parts of the water falling within their boundaries along some depression. Considerable parts of this precipitation are absorbed by the ground to be stored in the underground strata of the soil called aquifers, evaporated by heat or transpired by plants. The remaining part of the precipitation which flows above ground, called runoff, forms small streams, called headwaters. Gradually many such small local streams of adjacent small watersheds join together in the course of their journeys downwards to form a bigger stream and thus a river is born. The divides may be both large and small. An example of a large divide, called Continental divide, is the Himalayas. Sources of small streams which add up to a river may be seasonal like rain water or perennial like glaciers or large lakes. Most of the large rivers have perennial sources. Another important perennial source of river water is the water-bearing subsoil strata or aquifers, which a river intersects in the course of its journey to the sea. They are like some hidden reservoirs on which rivers depend heavily for replenishment of their supplies. This is the reason why a river does not become quite dry when there are no precipitations. On an average about 30% of river water is contributed thus by groundwater on a global basis. These large rivers carry large volumes of water and along their way to the seas receive more water from smaller streams called their tributaries. In the final lap of its journey to the sea these large rivers branch out into a number of distributaries and form a pattern which is almost the opposite of the pattern they formed in their upper reaches. The general pattern of a river system is like a tree-- in its upper courses or headwater regions through a network of tributaries (branches) it collects and funnels water to its middle course or main stream (trunk) which transports water and sediments and causes erosion and deposition, and in its lower courses it consists of a network of distributaries (roots) which often build deltas before finally debouching into the sea. This pattern may vary with the variation in the contour, slope and character of the soil of the country the river traverses. The velocity of the flow of a river depends not only on its volume but also on the slope of the country through which it passes. River water moves in an oscillating manner like snakes though the general direction of a river's flow tends to be straight. But when it meets with some formidable barrier like a mountain or a plateau or when the lie of the land on its way changes, the direction of the river's flow will also change. A major cause of abrupt and violent changes in river courses is the tectonic activities of the planet like continental draft, movement of plates of the planet's crust resulting in faults and fissures, volcanic eruptions and sudden uplifts and subsidences of the earth's surface. In earlier geological epochs such activities were more frequent than now. How devastating these elemental forces of nature, now apparently dormant, can be is evident even from a minor earthquake. Any interference, either deliberate or accidental, with a river's flow will also cause changes in the character and direction of that flow. The rivers carrying more loads of sediments than they can flush, either because of sluggishness of their flows or for some obstructions, will deposit a part of that sediment in their own channels, form bars and islands, raise their beds and will periodically be compelled to change their courses by bursting their banks and finding fresh channels.

As the most important agent shaping the landforms the river is both a great eroder and builder. The most glaring examples of the awesome powers of rivers in the performance of these two diametrically opposite functions are provided by the Grand Canyon, created by the Colorado river and the deltas built up by many rivers at their mouths. A rivers not only drains its basins but also carries along with the water a large amount of sediments and molten minerals from the lands it washes and levels in its upper reaches. The character and quantity of such sediments will depend on the character of the catchments and the areas through which it passes. Heavier parts of these sediments like boulders and gravels and coarse grained sands get dropped long before the river approaches the sea. The lighter parts of sediments like silts and fine sands the river goes on collecting and distributing along its way, particularly in areas where the river overspills or inundates because of the shallowness of its channel or lowness of its banks or the existence of distributaries or spill channels in those areas. Thus it contributes to the building of those areas as fertile floodplains by depositing layers of rich alluvium. Agriculturally these lands are so rich and lucrative that the ever-present risk of recurring floods cannot dissuade people from flocking there in ever greater numbers. According to Toynbee civilizations have developed and flourished in such places from early times because for larger rewards for his labors man has courageously accepted the challenge thrown here by nature. However the most important part of its building activity the river reserves for the final phase of its long journey. Here the slope gets less and less steep and the channel becomes wider and deeper. If at the place where it meets the seas the continental shelf does not drop sharply and its slope is gentle, the ocean currents are not strong and the tidal actions, particularly in bay areas, act as a considerable barrier the flow of the river becomes sluggish and it deposits its silts and sediments in heavy quantities, raises its own bed, blocks its own way, breaks this new land and bursts its own banks to find a new channel and gets split up into many. The process goes on for long till at last a delta with a unique ecology and landscape is formed.

All these should be but are not common knowledge because we do not care to know what a river really is. Least of all we care to know that a river is not merely an individual channel but a complex network or system. It is not independent but is interconnected with other streams and channels, all of which together form a network. It knows no artificial boundaries either political or regional. It is much more than a dominant feature of the landscape of its basin, it is an integral part not only of the local but also of the global hydrological cycle. Its basin is not a world in itself but an integral part of a geographical area in which all the basins are inextricably connected like individual cells in a living body. It is also a part of the whole environment -- the air, the soil -- both surface and underground, the climate, the vegetable world and all the species of the animal kingdom, not excluding man, that thrive there. And this whole environment is alive, every part of it throbs with life. A river has a life of its own too which it lives according to some unique laws made by nature. It would be presumptuous for anyone from outside to try to impose on the river something not in harmony with those laws. The myth that the powerful god Indra failed to stop the flow of the Ganges with the help of his mighty elephant Airavat is not without a moral and meaning. A river may not be a deity but it is a living entity. It is neither a poetic fancy nor a myth created by ignorant barbarians but a scientific truth. A river system may be compared with the blood vessels in a living animal body performing the most important function of circulation of blood which gives life and energy to all the individual cells and limbs. The small streams are like tiny capillaries that carry blood and keep merging together until all the blood empties into large veins, which deliver the blood to the heart and keep the whole organism alive Starve any of the limbs of its nourishments, it will atrophy and become paralyzed. Cause any deliberate or accidental damage to any part of this system, the whole body will become sick. Rivers are highly complex systems influenced by a number of variables and, as is the case with so many natural systems, if one variable is changed it produces a change in the others as well. If we cause the death of our rivers we will also die

And that is exactly what we have been doing. We are interfering too much with the natural regime of rivers and hastening their decay and death. To us a river is like that goose of the fable which used to lay golden eggs; it was killed because greedy people wanted to have its eggs all at once. In many ways we are doing the same with our rivers. In the case of ancient Sumer, for example, we have seen what damage excessive irrigation may cause to agricultural land. Excessive withdrawal of river water causes no less damage to the rivers. Rivers need a minimum volume of water in their channels to maintain their flow. In normal course the volume and velocity of river water are not steady and uniform throughout the year because of variations in the meteorological conditions and the climatic cycle. The distribution of precipitation is uneven over time. This affects all rivers and streams more or less but most those which are seasonal. During the lean months their channels shrink, many streams become completely dry. In the wet season they swell. This affects the draining efficiency and sediment transporting capacity of rivers. Where nature is able to maintain a balance or equilibrium, an ideal condition, the river is able to keep itself in good health and its basin is able to enjoy its blessings. But this happy state of things is rare, because nature is always in a process of continuous change making everything in it, including the rivers and streams, also dynamic. The river which today is a roaring stream with a deep channel and sharp currents may degenerate with the changes in the environment. For seasonal lack of enough water it fails to maintain its channel as an efficient drainage system throughout the year. As a result its bed gets gradually silted up, its channel is choked and it ultimately dies. To keep it alive its channel needs to be maintained by 'training' the river by removal of bars and shoals and construction of levees and embankments and prohibiting such developments to take place along its course as are likely to interfere with its natural flow. To do this river conservancy work properly the river should be kept under constant observation through a number of stations along the whole length of its course where all kinds of data--- hydrological, geological, meteorological etc.--- should be continuously collected, preserved and studied by skilled people. If this is neglected and corrective actions are not taken in time the inevitable will happen. The river will gradually degenerate and ultimately die. Its once flourishing basin will also gradually degenerate. Its economic prosperity will wane and reduced to a collection of marshes and swamps the whole place will become unhealthy and miasmatic and a breeding ground of diseases and epidemics.

But a river takes a very long time to die a natural death. We are precipitating and accelerating this natural process of degeneration, decay and ultimate death of a river by withdrawing enormous quantities of water by building dams across it, impounding it in large reservoirs, putting up huge barrages and diverting it through canals. This is diminishing the volume of water in its channel and reducing its capacity to maintain itself as an efficient drainage system. At the same time we are overloading the river with an enormous quantity of sediments by depriving the river basin of its vegetable cover through wholesale deforestation. This is increasing the rate of soil erosion, impoverishing the land of its fertility and diminishing its capacity to absorb that part of the precipitation which recharges and replenishes the underground aquifers which is a major source of river water. This is also increasing the runoff and the consequent risk of flood. The situation is being made worse by overgrazing and intensive cultivation. Global warming is also endangering the rivers having sources in mountain glaciers. If the Gangotri for example, the Himalayan glacier which feeds the Ganges, completely melts without being replenished because of rise in atmospheric temperature the great river will necessarily die. Rivers are endangered for other very important reasons. As they traverse long distances across many regions and countries no single region or country is bothered about the total effect each one's use may have either on the river as a whole or on the regions downstream. The legal or institutional arrangements necessary to prevent any such irrational and uncontrolled activities are mostly lacking. In case of many transnational rivers agreements and protocols have been signed between countries no doubt but it is always the national interests rather than the interests of the rivers themselves that motivate the behaviors of the contracting parties. Academic and administrative arrangements for training of personnel properly qualified to deal with matters relating to rivers are either totally absent or whatever little arrangements are there are sadly neglected. It is doubtful if there is a single university in the world, at least there is none in India, which runs a comprehensive course on river science or river engineering. In some institutions hydrology is a part of their civil engineering course, but it is extremely rudimentary in nature. It consists of a few lectures mainly on water mechanics without any practical course. What is worse, some professional bodies like the institutions of engineers award civil engineering diplomas to candidates who do not have even the benefit of attending the lectures. We are making our life-giving rivers sick and producing physicians to treat them who are no better than quacks. Most alarming, however, are the various ways in which we are polluting water, particularly river water. The ancient Indian rishi advised his disciple to pray that our rivers may flow with honey. Today already some rivers are flowing with poison and if we go on polluting our rivers at an ever increasing rate as now, soon the water of all the rivers will become unfit for use. The ancient mariner of Coleridge found water everywhere but 'nor any drop to drink'. Soon our predicament will be the same. The mariner committed the sin of killing of the albatross, in our case it will be the killing of our rivers.


Man has exploited rivers for time immemorial and has reaped immense benefits. Such exploitation has made his civilization possible. But now it has crossed all reasonable limits. The root causes are population explosion and revolutionary changes in men's attitudes and ways of life. By his excesses man has caused a great imbalance in the realm of nature. The unnatural rate at which his number is increasing and his unnatural greed are putting an unbearable strain not only on water but also on all other physical resources of the earth. Most other resources are necessary to meet the various needs of our existence no doubt but none is as essential as water for our very survival. As the easily accessible largest source of fresh water rivers are of paramount importance to us. Their conservation should therefore be our primary duty. And there is no time to lose. Man's immediate concern should be to conserve his available resources in usable state, moderate his needs by arresting the population growth, restrain his greed by changing his consumption pattern, and using the water resources in an intelligent and wholesome manner which will meet his needs without endangering his environment. If he himself is not able to restore this balance by restraining his excesses nature will do it for him and it will not be a very pleasant thing. Among all the physical resources water is unique. Other resources may get exhausted but water cannot. The worst that can happen is that man will make it completely unusable for himself and become totally extinct. And what Tennyson's brook sang will ultimately prove to be true --- 'Men may come and men may go but I go on for ever'. Only this time man will go but never to come back. In fact man is destroying his environment in a way which is making this planet totally inhospitable for his own species and like many species which are now extinct but which once occupied the centre stage of creation, he will depart for ever yielding his dominant position to some other form of life.



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13-Oct-2002
More by :  Kumud Biswas
 
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Solitude and other poems by Rajender Krishan
 


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