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India’s Water Crisis Turning Brothers Into Enemies

Queuing at a water tank in Latur, Maharashtra, on April 20
Queuing at a water tank in Latur, Maharashtra, on April 20
Bismillah Geelani

MUMBAI â€" In the western state of Maharashtra, dozens of men, women and children surround a water tanker on the main road. They hold pitchers, buckets and other containers, and are trying to fill as many as they can.

Renuka, 35, pushes her way to the top of the tanker and is able to fill her five pitchers. “I waited 15 days to get this much water. But how long will it last?" she says. "We haven’t had tap water for the last two years. Our ponds and wells have dried up. There’s no water at all."

Manohar was less successful, managing to fill just one bucket. A second spilled on the ground when someone tried to snatch it from him. The water crisis, he says, has turned "brothers into enemies."

The region is reeling from severe drought for the third consecutive year. In the past, people in this farming area worried first and foremost about failed crops. There was even a spate of farm suicides. Now, though, farmers are more worried about themselves, according to agricultural journalist Harveesh Singh.

"It's a scary situation," he says. "So far, the concern has been the crops, rising overhead costs for the farmers and their diminishing returns. But what we are witnessing now is a catastrophe. Our water reservoirs are almost empy. The level has reached as low as 5% in Maharashtra. People don’t even have enough water to drink. They're fearing for their lives, and the lives of their livestock."

Drought is also being blamed on deadly forest fires currently raging in India's northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand.

While every drop of water is a struggle, one local government official had no qualms about wasting 10,000 liters of water just to settle the dust that was blown around by his helicopter as he arrived to assess the situation.

Anger is also brewing against the government for allowing seven matches of the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament to be played in the state. Keeping the grounds green requires huge amounts of water.

“If you look at the water policy for the state of Maharashtra, there is a guideline that has to be followed. And the guideline is very clear: Water has to be used in order of priority. The priority is for drinking, cooking and agriculture," says Rakesh Singh, a spokesperson for Loksatta, an NGO working among farmers.

"Maharashtra cannot afford the IPL at this juncture," he adds. "Not when most of the state's districts are facing a severe drought. This is a moral as well as a legal issue."

The blame game

Maharashtra isn't the only part of India that's suffering. Droughts have also been declared in at least 12 other states. In the southern states of Karnataka and Telangana, people walk several kilometers in the scorching heat to fetch a bucket of drinking water. In Punjab, in the north, farmers cannot irrigate their crops. And in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, armed soldiers have been deployed around water bodies to prevent "theft."

Agricultural Minister Radhamohan Singh blames weather conditions for the crisis. "This is a natural calamity, something beyond our control," he told reporters. "There has been a continuous shortfall in rain. But we are doing everything possible to minimize the impact. We are working closely with all state government and providing all the help we can."

Environmentalists like Himanshu Thakkar, coordinator of the South Asian Network for Dams, Rivers and People, blame government policies for the worsening situation. "This is going to be the worst summer India has faced since independence," he says. "The back-to-back rainfall deficit in the last two years has obviously played a role, but the bigger problem is the government's lack of planning, complete mismanagement and failure to prioritize how the water is allocated."

Thakkar says the government’s obsession with building dams and interlinking rivers has led to serious neglect of the ground water supply, which he calls India's "water lifeline." Underground aquifers supply more than two thirds of the water used for irrigation, and 85% of the water used in rural areas. "Our water policy has to be focused on how to sustain that water lifeline," he says.

Experts say that ground water recharge systems like rivers, forests, wetlands and local water bodies have either dried up, or are extremely polluted. India's Central Ground Water Board warns that unless changes are made, 40% of the country’s population will no longer have access to drinking water by 2030.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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