World Water Day passes by

March 22 is observed as World Water Day but like every other day set aside to remind people of the importance of one issue or other, this day too passed by uneventfully except for a function for school/college students at the Soso Tham auditorium where dignitaries said their rehearsed pieces. Water is life and acknowledging this is the first step towards not only conserving water through judicious use but also in conserving water sources, catchments and above all our rivers. The theme for World Water Day, 2023 is “Accelerating the change to solve the water and sanitation crisis.” In Meghalaya we have a humungous problem with both. Most septic tanks are emptied into rivers, thereby assaulting our water sources relentlessly. Yet there is no way that action can be and is being taken against such polluters. In Meghalaya laws are made to be broken with impunity. Water crisis looms large in the state. Both the state and central government are trumpeting about the Jal Jeevan Mission but unless there are sources to draw water from, how does water come to the homes of people? With rapid deforestation water sources are dwindling. There is as yet no study on the loss of forest cover in Meghalaya.
In 2012, just two months after introducing a policy to promote mining, Meghalaya diluted the definition of “forest”. On December 28, 2012 the state government amended its Forest Regulation Act of 1973 and said only a “compact and continuous tract of minimum four hectares,” will now be considered as forest in the state. The government says the amendment is to provide clarity to the unclear definition of forest. The new definition specifies that an area should have more than 250 naturally growing trees with a girth size of 15 cm or more per hectare (ha) to be regarded as forest. In case of a bamboo dominant patch, more than 100 naturally growing clumps should be present per ha. In case of mixed vegetation, the number changes to 150 trees and over 40 bamboo clumps. By the above definition there is no more forest in Meghalaya. This was done to facilitate quick clearance for mining. Without forests how can there be catchments?
It is said, “Water is Life.” Sadly no one mentioned World Water Day in the Assembly even while one member asked why the Greater Shillong Water Supply Scheme (GSWSS) is delayed – a banal question especially if the MLA follows the trail of the Umiew River which flows towards Mawphlang and checks out how ugly and polluted the water is.
According to UN Reports inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene causes death to around 1.4 million people annually, and the lives of another 74 million people is cut short. Around 44% of household wastewater globally is not treated properly. On the other hand, global water demand is expected to increase by 55% by 2050. Who will do the water requirements survey in Meghalaya and who will push the agenda of water conservation and keeping the rivers clean?

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