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Tap water in Singapore is perfectly safe to drink. Its 1000 times cheaper than bottled water. Singapore still imports almost half its water from Malaysia. But, in just 50 years of independence, it has attained a sustainable water supply & security.

China is highly water-stressed. Water scarcity is widespread. China has chosen to build more dams (about 22,000 since 1950s) and canals to address the problem. Its still a work in progress. But it has helped the country grow rapidly, even as the negative social & environmental impacts of these large scale projects are being debated.

The water situation in India is pathetic. Almost no city in India supplies 24/7 water. Water pollution & wastage are rampant. Indian politicians pay lip service when there are serious water shortages, droughts & floods. There is huge hue & cry when Delhi or Chennai goes dry, with opportunistic politicians exploiting the situation for personal short term advantages. But attaining sustainable water supply & security needs more than a fleeting attention. Sustained policy & execution is required.

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What is India’s Water Vision? When can we get 24/7 water supply? Can we ever feel safe to drink water directly from the tap? What are PM Modi, central & state governments doing about this? How can judiciary speed up and enforce settlement of inter-state water disputes?

Its easy to dismiss the achievements of Singapore or China. Singapore is small, rich & easy to manage. China’s autocratic ways may not work in the long term. But I am more interested in what we can learn from them. And from other countries like Denmark & Canada who have worked wonders in water management. We cannot hide behind the often heard excuse that our democratic system is designed to be slow, but effective in the long run. We need quality water supply now, not after 50 years.

A fast growing & urbanizing India is heading towards a water crisis. What happens when huge & densely populated cities face frequent & severe water shortages? Violent protests & riots. Such mass social disruptions can slow down, or even reverse, past gains of growth & development. I won’t be surprised if this happens within a decade.

We have enough water, if managed well. Water is renewable and can be reused. Like water, India has enough good ideas & people. A high school or college student can come up with a good list of things we should be doing to manage our water resources. What’s missing is execution.

Today is World Water Day. A day bound to be filled by pompous speeches & grand ideas from politicians, bureaucrats and policy wonks.

But, when can we see action on the ground?

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