Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Still in Delhi: Water Democracy and His Holiness the Dalai Lama


The highlight of my stay in Delhi was a lecture I attended that was given by the Dalai Lama! Many Tibetan Buddhist along with a few foreigners like me came to attend this teaching on the “Twelve Links of Dependent Origination,” which is a theory that is common to all schools of Buddhism. “Dependent Origination” is the belief that all happenings arise in a mutually interdependent way. For example that without effect there is no cause, or that without Evil there is no Good, and vice versa. In addition, His Holiness stressed the fact that Buddhism is not only about faith and prayer, but also about “using one’s intelligence to the maximum” especially when establishing what is reality. He underlined that all problems are usually caused by ignorance. I have to admit that I did not think his talk was mind-awakening. I did find him extremely humorous and of an inspiring humbleness. And there definitely was this special atmosphere that comes about when a large crowd sharing the same belief gets together. It was extremely powerful when the Dalai Lama arrived and we all stood at once, most Tibetans bowing repeatedly.

I also attended a conference organized by the environmental activist group, Navdanya entitled, “Building Water Democracy, Resisting Water Privatization”. Most of the speakers at the conference Navdanya was founded by Dr. Vandana Shiva who is a character! She studied nuclear physics and holds a doctorate in theoretical physics that she obtained in Canada. After completing her doctorate, she took a break to go back to India to learn more about the interaction between science and policy. Thinking she would go back to physics and become a professor, she first wanted to understand how it could be possible that India, although it has “the third biggest scientific community in the world” is still one of the poorest countries. She never went back to physics and is now one of the leading environmental activists in India. As she says in an article I found online, she doesn’t “want to live in a world where five giant companies control our health and our food.” And so she is devoted to fighting for “seed sovereignty” (against the patented GMO that force the farmers to buy new seeds for every new harvest and render them completely dependent on big corporate companies), “food sovereignty” (food security and sustainable agriculture, ie. organic farming on small scale) and “water sovereignty,” which was the focus of the conference I attended.

Big dam projects as well as river linking projects (in India, but also in China, and other countries as well,) divert the water from rural areas to bring it to the cities where it is lacking. In the big Tehri dam project, located in Uttaranchal (which is by the way an earthquake-prone area, so definitely not the best area to construct a dam of such a size!) approximately 42 villages will be completely submerged and 72 partially, a total of 13,000 families may have to be displaced (about the Tehri dam)!!! Hence such projects mean more water for the cities, for the more wealthy, but it also means the loss of not only land but also livelihood for many farmers- so the water is being stolen from the poor and given to the richer. The argument put forth is that behind all this stand the large multinational corporations like Suez, hence the need to resist water privatization... So what’s the solution? Better water management through extensive action at the local community level, through rainwater harvesting, watershed management (recharging aquifers for example, by building reservoirs) and better waste water management. One speaker was underlining the fact that all water eventually becomes waste-water so in a way, by increasing the supply of water one will inevitably increase the volume of waste water as well. And so a better management of waste water is desirable. He also pointed out that in some communities (for example in the Calcutta wetlands) waste water is not considered as a pollutant but as a resource. Nutrients present in waste water are used in fisheries and agriculture. Fish feed on the algae that pick up these nutrients. Some info on the Calcutta wet land integrated waste-water recovery.

Somehow I feel that this might work in a small community, but not necessarily in a larger one. I feel that if people do not need to pay for the water, they will waste it- at least that’s what happens in Western societies. Maybe there is the need for both- privatization to some extent combined with local action. No?

After all this water talk, I am completing my stay in Delhi by visiting the Toilet museum!! Definitely the only one of its kind in the World! ... and then I will head to Australia for a short visit of 2 weeks!!

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