Will thirst Become Unquenchable?
1. It is not yet noon in Delhi, just 180 miles south of the Himalayan glaciers. But in the narrow corridors of Nehru Camp, a slum in this city of 16 million, the blast furnace of the north Indian summer has already sent temperatures soaring past 105 degrees Fahrenheit. Chaya, the 25-year-old wife of a fortune-teller, has spent seven hours joining the mad scramble for water that even today defines life in this heaving metropolis and offers a taste of what the depletion of Tibet’s water and ice portends.
2. Chaya’s day began long before sunrise, when she and her five children fanned out in the darkness, armed with plastic jugs of every size. After day break, the rumor of a tap with running water sent her stumbling in a panic through the slum’s narrow corridors. Now, with her containers still empty and the sun blazing overhead, she has returned home for a moment’s rest. Asked if she’s eaten anything today, she laughs: “We haven’t even had any tea yet.”
3. Suddenly cries erupt – a water truck has been spotted. Chaya leaps up and joins the human torrent in the street. A dozen boys swarm onto a blue tanker, jamming hoses in and siphoning the water out. Below, shouting women jostle for position with their containers. In six minutes the tanker is empty. Chaya arrived too late and must move on to chase the next rumour of water.
4. More than two-thirds of the city’s water is drawn from the Yamuna and the Ganges, rivers fed by Himalayan ice. If that ice disappears, the future will almost certainly be worse. “We are facing an unsustainable situation,” says Diwan Singh, a Delhi environmental activist. “Soon – not in thirty years but in five to ten – there will be an exodus because of the lack of water.”
5. The tension already seethes. In the clogged alleyway around one of Nehru Camp’s last functioning taps, which run for one hour a day, a man punches a woman who cut in line, leaving a purple blow on her face.