Pricing the precious

It is unfathomable why a civilisation that has worshipped water as part of its tradition should suffer from its scarcity. Mainly, because people today don't know the cost of the water used, and they seldom try to conserve or collect water where it falls. The fact that 1.5 million tanks dot Rajasthan's 660,000 villages and the state's numerous forts and palaces still boast of rainwater harvesting facilities is testimony to our rich past of water management techniques.

Can history simply not be repeated to overcome geographical limitations? Yes it can. Provided a carrot-and-stick policy is in place to reward efficient use of available water and penalise profligacy. Alongside, a well-regulated pricing mechanism and encouragement of local conservation methods, including rainwater harvesting, must be initiated if future water wars are to be avoided.

According to an analysis published in Science, the foremost reason for the mounting water scarcity is that water is undervalued throughout the world. The price of irrigation water, for instance, covers only a small fraction of capital investment and management costs. The costs for the treatment and management of watersheds are never reflected in these prices. Similarly, in the case of pollution of freshwater sources, regulations are often ineffective and the culprits seldom held responsible. Majority of the city dwellers pay scant attention to conserving water and some of them have now dug private tube-wells without paying the actual cost of mining the water.

A simple way to promote efficient use of water is to implement tax on the profligate behaviour. Prudence in the available water-use can be promoted by recovering the real cost of supply and distribution . There may be a widespread resistance initially, but it will make the system efficient and the people responsible