23. Taming Water

Water is the giver and taker of life, as we in Chennai know, as the monsoon approaches. Over 2500 years ago Mohenjo-Daro was built in the middle of the Indus valley civilization. Engineers brought water to streets through covered drains and enormous pipelines. Water has many uses: water for transport, for electricity and energy, for chemistry and industrial production, for leisure and recreation, for health and cleaning. All this makes water planning an aspect of development itself.

In 40 AD, Sextus Julius Frontinus observed that the true miracle of Egypt was not the pyramids but its water systems. So too Rome known for its Colosseum and Pantheon, was made possible by its aqueducts and hidden water pipelines.

It is working with water that has made human civilization possible. In the desert of Africa, in Libiya, engineers have found a hidden underground pool the size of Germany. They started working on piping it to where most of their people live, on the shores of the Mediterranean. This is called The Great Man Made River project, which is expected to be as long as the Rhine. It will eventually cover 3,380kilometers. Where did this water come from? Ten thousand years ago, the Sahara was a green savannah with animals like giraffes and elephants. This is the hidden ground water stored from those distant times, under the desert sand. The quadruple aged water aquifers that were uncovered in the 50s had projected sizes varying from 4,500 to 20,000 cubic kilometers. The majority of this water supply was accumulated almost 15,000 to 25,000 years ago, while some water tanks are believed to be a few thousand years old. It was bombed by Nato and nearly 50% of the people had no running water. Today it has been repaired.

The growing water scarcity of the North China plains and the sinking groundwater table that threatens the very existence of Beijing as a capital, have led them to revive a gigantic plan, first suggested by Mao Zedong in 1952. The project will take 5 per cent of the Yangtze’s flow and pump it hundreds of kilometres to the water-thirsty cities and farmlands of the north – as far as Inner Mongolia.

Man has built 45,000 dams over 15 meters high. Over 4, 00,000 sq. kilometres are flooded by this dammed water. Water rich countries like Iceland was working on entering the hydro age when everything from cars to factories will be driven by water. More than 2000 years ago, Pausanias, the Greek Geographer, declared that no city can call itself one, unless it has an ornamental fountain! Man has tried so hard to control water. But water effortlessly takes back control!



Dr. Rekha Shetty

Water Warrior