India’s blackout exposes choice between water & electricity

by Harsha Yadav

Source: Gigaom

Let’s take a snapshot of India right now.

  1. In India, there is a drought. This year’s poor monsoon is likely to lead to the third drought in 10 years. But two-thirds of the water India receives is wasted because of inadequate storage and management.
  2. India just had a power outage affecting 650 million people, a population twice as large at the U.S.  Most cities in the state of Punjab faced an acute water shortage due to lack of proper co-ordination between the power and the municipal corporations.
  3. Water tensions are increasing between countries like India and Pakistan.
  4. Before the power grid outage India was “staring at a water drinking shortage.”
  5. There is a race to tap India’s coal resources to fuel a whopping 519 GW – nearly 500 power plants – leaving behind massive deforestation and water contamination that could have a ripple effect on the environment and health inside the world’s second most-populous country and neighboring Bangladesh.  Despite places like coal mining in the Jaintia Hills of India being one of the wettest places on earth, much of the water from the Ummutha River that flows through it isno longer drinkable.

According to Andrew Revkin, The New York Times blogger: “It’d be great to think that renewable energy sources and distributed electricity generation could solve such problems, and they’re greatwhere they work. (And India is ramping up an ambitious effort to expand solar energy.) But the reality is that grids and central power plants are a mainstay of increasingly urbanized economies. In India, that means coal will be an economic keystone for decades.”

Leaving aside the flat out failure of grid extension in India, let’s focus on a more stark reality.  The World Bank estimates that 21 percent of communicable diseases in India are water related. In India,diarrhea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily.

So, India’s power outage underscores a larger problem facing us.  If you had to choose between power and water, what would you choose?

Revkin’s blog might suggest he chooses power. I would choose water. But, instead, can’t we deploy solutions where we have both?

Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

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