The wars of the future, many wise men warn us, will be fought over water. It is a resource that makes up 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, but lack of access where it counts already means one in every nine people doesn’t have any way to obtain clean drinking water. Moreover, exploitative agriculture practices have contributed to depleting groundwater to critical levels, while most of our waste finds its way into the water system.
These are crises that Tushaar Shah has been confronting us with for over 30 years. A Senior Fellow at the Colombo-based International Water Management Institute, Shah is one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject. He has written extensively about the nexus between the energy and irrigation sectors, which mean wasteful, and more importantly harmful, methods of extracting groundwater remain in place despite the existence of better, even cheaper, alternatives. “India’s irrigation economy has been undergoing a dramatic transformation,” he writes in one of his many papers on the subject, “with the control of irrigation shifting from the government to the individual farmer”. With the control, he argues, so have the costs.
Shah, an economist and public policy specialist, has previously served as director of the Institute of Rural Management at Anand, Gujarat. His work has seen him honoured with the Outstanding Scientist Award by the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research in 2002.