The Cauvery Conundrum

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Can you think of why so many countries have fought for decades over oil? You’re right! Oil is a natural resource and we have a limited quantity of it on Earth. It is precious since we use it as a fuel and as the oil reserves in the world deplete, people are thinking of alternates.  But can you believe that people are also fighting over water?  Sounds odd when there is so much water in the world, doesn’t it?  

We all know 70% of the earth is covered with water but the problem is that 97% of earth’s water is saline or salty – in the oceans and seas. Now that can’t be used to drink, to wash, to use in factories to make things, or on farms.  Sweet water from rivers, wells and lakes is needed for this. With the increase in population, we need more fresh water.

One such problem that has been brewing for over a 100 years is the Cauvery water dispute in southern India.  The neighbouring states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala have not been able to decide how to share the water from this river.  Now, the source of the Cauvery river is in Karnataka. It is 765-km-long and flows through Tamil Nadu. Its tributaries also flow through Kerala and Puducherry.

What’s the solution? Dams have been built to control and direct the flow and over the years there have been many agreements amongst the states. In 1990, the Supreme Court of India set up a tribunal (a special panel of judges), to decide how to share the water in a fair manner. They came up with a formula in 2007, which the states didn’t like, so they appealed to the Supreme Court to take a look at this again.

Finally, last month, the Supreme Court said that no state can claim ownership of the river water. They considered many factors like the needs and population of each state, and this is what they decided:

Photo Credit: Hindustan Times

So now is all good?  Sadly, not.  What happens when there isn’t enough water in the river because of poor rainfall? That is still a concern just like the shortage of water in other parts of the world.  Similar disputes have occurred between Egypt and Ethiopia over the water of the river Nile, between India and Pakistan over the Indus river, India and China over the Brahmaputra river and Turkey and Iraq over water from the Tigris river.  Wars have broken out in parts of the world like in Mozambique and Angola and between Israel and Syria.

Looks like the fight for water is the growing tension and another big reason to save and protect Earth’s precious water and other natural resources.   


Written by: Purnima Thacker, a keen art admirer, nature enthusiast, intellectual property lawyer and mum to a curious 8 year old.

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