Water was an essential factor in the evolution of the planet, and now it is most essential for the survival of human beings, animals, plants and the planet as a whole. If it does not rain anywhere on earth for only one year, all life on the planet will be destroyed. This is because all creatures – from the smallest organisms to the largest animals – need water.
If there is no water, first the small creatures will die, then the ecological balance of the planet will be lost. Next, human beings will also die, and soon the earth will become a barren wasteland.
Global Water Crisis
In the near future there will be a severe crisis in many parts of the world. Many large rivers like the Ganga, the Jamuna and the Thames are already very polluted. People cannot drink this water, and if they even wash their hands in it they can become infected. The only solution is to rely on rainwater. We must collect the rainwater, develop the science of making artificial rain through helium or any other process, and bring the clouds which rain over the ocean onto the land. Constructing more deep tube wells is not the answer. Rather, we must catch the rainwater where it falls. Many ponds, canals, dams, lakes and reservoirs should be immediately constructed to catch the rainwater and store it for drinking water. This is the only way out of the water crisis that will confront humanity in the very near future.
In the physical sphere there are two types of calamities – natural calamities and those caused by human beings. Today most calamities are caused by human beings, but sometimes natural calamities like typhoons, floods, droughts, earthquakes, etc., also occur. Although different types of calamities may confront humanity, doomsday will never happen. The very idea of doomsday is based on dogma.
The calamities caused by human beings are mainly of two types. First, many calamities are caused by the bifurcation and trifurcation of society. The bifurcation of society is exemplified by the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and the recent war between North and South Vietnam. The division of India into India, Pakistan and Bangladesh is an example of the trifurcation of society.
Calamities are also caused by the destruction of the environment and the indiscriminate exploitation of subterranean resources such as coal, oil and water. One of the greatest causes of environmental destruction is deforestation. Due to deforestation, the rain clouds coming from the Bay of Bengal travel all the way across India and rain on the Arabian Sea. That is, clouds which once rained on Magadh now rain on the Arabian Sea. Consequently, the water level in the Arabian Sea is gradually rising and the Bay of Bengal is becoming more salty. The result is that the water level around the coast of India is rising, the land area of the Indian subcontinent is decreasing and soil erosion is increasing. Approximately two-thirds of the surface of the globe is water and one-third is land, but due to deforestation the water portion is increasing and the land portion is decreasing.
Another cause of environmental destruction is the exploitation of subterranean resources. Deep cavities have been formed in the earth after extracting subterranean resources, and these cavities should be properly filled. In some countries it is the practice to use sand to fill the cavities created by mining underground coal. If these cavities are left unfilled, the surrounding regions are more likely to experience earthquakes than other areas. Moreover, the unfilled cavities can severely weaken the surface structure of the earth, causing whole regions to collapse.
In some Arab countries, huge amounts of money have been made by extracting oil from under the ground. Several years ago the leaders of these countries realized that the supply of oil would not last forever, so they started to think about the future of their countries after the supply of oil was exhausted. They became concerned that the level of the water-table was falling and the sizes of the deserts were increasing. To solve this problem, they decided to import soil and sweet water to create dense forests. Now the trees that they planted are eight to ten years old, and last year it was reported that they experienced floods for the first time. Many of the local people had never seen floods before, and young children even cried in alarm at the sight of the rain!
The exploitation of subterranean water reserves is contributing to desertification in many parts of the world, and as the subterranean water level recedes, the soil near the surface dries out and plants wither and die. This has already happened in many parts of Rajasthan. Afforestation is the only solution to desertification. Human beings have suffered from water scarcity and drought in the past, and this problem will continue unless proper care is taken in the future. If deforestation and the indiscriminate exploitation of subterranean water reserves continue, it is likely that many parts of the world will face severe water shortages from 1993 to at least the year 2000. The only way to avoid such a catastrophe is to immediately implement a decentralized approach to water conservation.
The Causes of Drought
Why do droughts occur? What are the most important causes of drought? There are three main causes. The first is the wanton destruction of plants or indiscriminate deforestation, the second is low pressure systems over oceans and big seas, and the third is sudden changes in the angular movement of the sun and other celestial bodies like comets, nebulae and galaxies.
Deforestation causes drought because it prevents the plants from nourishing the earth. The fibrous roots of plants absorb and hold considerable amounts of water which is slowly released into the soil. In the paddy fields of Bengal, for example, during the dry season water will trickle down the channels beside the fields. Where does the water come from? It is released from the roots of the standing crops. But when the paddy and the associate crops are harvested, the supply of water dries up. Deforestation is caused by human beings, and it is within their power to solve this problem through their own efforts.
The second and third causes are presently beyond human control. In the future, with the development of the meteorological and marine sciences, human beings will be able to partially influence and overcome the second cause, but not fully. The third cause can only be controlled by Supreme Consciousness. However, if human beings follow the path of positive microvita and have the grace of Supreme Consciousness, they can also control the third cause.
How do the sudden changes in the angular movement of celestial bodies cause drought? The paths of some comets are predetermined and astronomers can ascertain their arrival dates and possible effects on the earth, but there are other comets that appear suddenly without warning. When there is the sudden appearance of powerful celestial bodies or a sudden change in their angle of rotation, their gravitational pull may disturb the seasons and the natural order of creation. For example, as a result of the strong gravitational pull of a powerful comet or meteor, clouds may not be formed. This phenomenon is called bakudashá in Sanskrit.
Certain deviations of celestial bodies like meteors, comets and satellites take place due to the concentration of a huge number of positive and negative microvita. Movement in universal space is subject to the movement of positive and negative microvita, and this also affects life on earth.
The angularity of the movement of celestial bodies also affects the minds of human beings. Suppose you are outside enjoying a cool breeze on a calm full moon night. A soothing, painless feeling will arise in your mind. But if the feeling continues, the nerve cells in your body may become dull, and if the experience of dullness goes beyond a certain limit, your thinking power may be impaired, even causing some psychic ailment. This occurs because the ecological balance within the human structure is lost.
Say a certain incident took place in your life at the age of eight. Now we know that there is nothing identical in this universe, only similarities. If similar circumstances reoccur after a gap of say eight years, a similar incident could take place when you are sixteen. You have to ensure that people are not put into an environment which is similar to one that caused them pain and suffering in the past, as this may adversely affect their progress in the spiritual sphere. This also applies to the physical and psychic spheres.
Human movement is movement towards ecological equipoise – towards the supreme synthesis. In the inner world, balance must be maintained as this leads to spiritual progress. Ecological order is not only for the earth but for the entire universe, and it must be maintained both within and without. The angular displacement of any celestial body may affect the human mind as well as the physical universe, so balance must be maintained between the internal and external spheres. In all aspects of human life this subtle balance must be maintained. This is ecological balance.
The Defects of Well Irrigation
I have already said that constructing more deep tube wells is not the solution to the water crisis. What are the drawbacks of well irrigation? Well irrigation causes the level of the water-table to drop, while the continuous use of well irrigation dries up the subterranean flow of water. Initially the effects of continuous well irrigation may not be easy to perceive, but eventually a fertile region will be transformed into a desert. In fact, if the subterranean water level stays at above twenty to twenty-five feet, the surface vegetation will not be affected, but if it drops below fifty feet, the surface of the earth will become a barren wasteland.
The negative effects of well irrigation include the following:
1) Neighbouring shallow wells dry up creating the problem of lack of drinking water.
2) Trees, orchards and large plants do not get sufficient subterranean water so they wither and die. Green countryside will become a desert after thirty to forty-five years of intensive well irrigation.
3) In some deep tube wells enemy elements – that is, elements which are harmful to the soil such as heavy minerals and mineral salts – get mixed with the water, causing problems such as salinity. As a result, the land eventually becomes infertile and unfit for cultivation. When the flow of well water stops, irrigation tanks supplied by these wells also dry up.
Well irrigation should be used only as a temporary measure because of the devastating effects it can have on the surrounding environment. Alternative methods of irrigation include river irrigation, irrigation from reservoirs, dams and small ponds, shift irrigation and lift irrigation. Irrigation water is like the apex of a spinning top. Without it, agriculture is not possible.
The Best Methods of Irrigation
The best method of irrigation is the conservation of surface water through a system of ponds, canals, dams, lakes and reservoirs.
Take the example of Ráŕh and Orissa. The potentialities of this region have not yet been fully developed and utilized. The major portion of the wealth is subterranean, and these treasures should be properly harnessed, but practically nothing has been done in this respect. The surface potentialities should also be properly developed, but these too have been neglected.
How should the surface water potentiality in this region be utilized? The rainfall in this area is very meager – rain only falls part of the year, and the rest of the year it is dry. Well irrigation is underdeveloped, and there is hardly any lift or shift irrigation. Sixty-five percent of the land is rocky and sandy, and traditionally only coarse grain is grown there. So in Ráŕh we have to do two things – construct many new small-scale ponds, dams and lakes, and undertake large-scale afforestation on the banks of all water systems.
Ráŕh has undulating land, so large-scale reservoirs cannot be easily constructed, but many small lakes and ponds can be built. Large, deep reservoirs will not be as beneficial as small-scale ponds and should not be encouraged. Moreover, large reservoirs rely on lift and shift irrigation to supply water to a system of canals. In such a system the water pressure will fall because as the water travels along the canals leading from the reservoirs to the fields, the canals will be obstructed by the hilly terrain. So, if there is a big investment in reservoirs, the money will be wasted. Instead, many small ponds and dams can be constructed with the same investment. If many small-scale dams are constructed at a cost of about one hundred thousand rupees each, this investment will give a return of hundreds of millions of rupees.
In a system of small-scale ponds and dams, any surplus water in the canals leading to the fields can be rechannelled back to a main water source to avoid wastage. Water will only be carried a little distance in a small-scale canal system, so most of the time the surrounding fields will be properly irrigated. Sometimes however, as in the rainy season, surplus water will be created which should be rechannelled back to the water source or used further downstream. Such a system will also help check flooding in the rainy season and avoid damage to the small-scale dams constructed along the rivers. Farmers should take care that they do not use excessive non-organic fertilizers, because the chemicals will pollute the water system and have a harmful effect on humans, animals, fish, plants and the environment. Organic fertilizers are preferable to non-organic fertilizers.
What is the method to irrigate a rain-shadow region? When the rain clouds move from the sea and strike high mountains on the land there is rain. The part of the mountain range which faces the sea gets ample rain, whereas the region on the other side of the range facing inland gets little rain. The region which gets ample rain is the rain-front area, while the region which gets little rain is the rain-shadow area. The entire Telengana region is a rain-shadow area, and so is the Pune region of Maharashtra.
How can the Pune region be irrigated? There are two main methods. One is to pump water up the coastal side of the mountain range so that it can run down the inland rivers, and the other is to dig a tunnel through the mountains from the rain-front area to the rain-shadow area. The second method of irrigation is far cheaper. A well constructed tunnel should last about 150 years.
There are three types of rivers – ice fed, rain fed and subterranean fed. Ice fed rivers cause flooding when there is an increase in the temperature, whereas rain fed and subterranean fed rivers only cause seasonal flooding when there is heavy rain. However, an increase in the temperature can dry them up.
Are the rivers in Ráŕh perennial or seasonal? Are they ice fed or rain fed, or do they get water from subterranean sources due to the high level of the artesian water? Many rain fed rivers are only supplied with water in the rainy season and not in other seasons. The rivers in central Ráŕh are rain fed but they are also supplied with artesian water. We should not depend only on rain fed rivers, because while they may accumulate water in the rainy season, in other seasons they may dry up. And even if rain fed rivers are also fed by subterranean sources which supply water throughout the year, there should still be every effort to conserve the surface water.
There are four categories of rivers – small rivulets, rivulets, rivers and big rivers.
Rivers also have three stages – the hill, plain and delta stages. Some rivers, however, do not have their delta stage in the ocean because they expire before reaching the sea. Take the example of the topography of Mithila and Magadh. In Mithila in the rainy season, sufficient water passes through rivers such as the Bagmati, Gandak and Koshi. The hill stage of these rivers is in Nepal, the plain stage is in Mithila, and the delta stage is in Bengal. The plains of Mithila contain very soft soil, which is why these rivers always change their course. No rivers have their delta stage in Mithila. To tame these rivers, the cooperation of Nepal and Bengal is required.
In Magadh, unlike Mithila, the hill and delta stages of the rivers are in Magadh, except for the Suvarnareka, which flows just on the border line between southern Magadh and northern Chattisgarh. The Koel River should be tamed through cooperation between Magadh and Kaoshal. In fact, Magadh and Kaoshal share many common problems.
In controlling or taming rivers, powerful boards of experts should be established which contain representatives of all three stages. This will ensure the successful implementation of river projects. Under international law no country should be allowed to use water according to its own wish. The hill stage must consult with the plain stage and the plain stage must consult with the delta stage. Nepal, for example, must consult with the plain and delta stages of its rivers which flow through India. If there is want of cooperation among the three, the river water coming from the hills or blocked at the delta may submerge a large area of plain land. Magadh is in a relatively convenient position as both the hill and plain stages of its rivers are in Magadh.
The banks of all water systems should be covered by dense forests. The science behind this is that the roots of the trees retain water. When the water-table subsides, the roots of the trees slowly release water. Hence, a pond surrounded by trees will never run dry. The foliage of the trees also minimizes evaporation. Besides this, the leaves of the trees have very small pores which attract clouds, so the trees help to increase the rainfall. Only one hundred years ago there were large rain forests in Ráŕh, and at that time in the Manbhum district the rainfall was seventy to eighty inches per year. Now it is hardly forty to forty-five inches.
A scientific programme of afforestation should include two aspects. In the first phase fast growing trees should be planted. Trees which grow to their full height in six months to two years and provide dense green cover should be selected. In the second phase, trees which take longer to grow but also provide dense green cover should be planted. This approach will quickly restore the ecological balance of a region.
Afforestation must be carried out both intensively and extensively. The best approach is to plant both fast growing and slow growing trees together. Planting only slow growing trees is uneconomic because we will have to wait thirty, fifty, seventy or one hundred years to get the desired result. And planting only fast growing trees will not provide any long term benefits. So both intensive and extensive afforestation should be done immediately. After reaching maturity, the trees can be selectively cut and sold.
Afforestation should be carried out on the banks of ponds, canals, dams, lakes, rivers and reservoirs. For example, babula [Acasia arabica Willd.] or kheyer [Acasia catechu Willd.] should be planted. In between these trees we can plant bukphul [Sesbania grandiflora Pers.], and in between these, Indian rosewood. The reason for this is that bukphul grows very fast and within five years it will be a tall tree, but babula takes a little longer to grow. Indian rosewood grows very slowly but it lives a long time. Thus, first bukphul will grow fast and attract rain which will help the other trees to grow. When it has fully matured after five or seven years it can be cut, and by this stage we will have a dense forest of Indian rosewood trees.
These trees are very useful in other respects also. For example, bukphul leaves increase the milk supply in cows, while thread can be produced from the leaves and stem. Indian rosewood trees increase the rainfall and hold water in their roots. The flowers provide a plentiful supply of honey, the leaves can be used to make plates, the sap is used to produce gum for the incense industry, and the tree may be used in sericulture to produce tasar silk. The seeds are also edible and are taken by poor people, while the honey has medicinal use and economic value, so it can earn foreign exchange as an export commodity. Piyasal [Pterocarpus marsupium Roxb] can also be planted in between Indian rosewood trees if need be. In this way, step by step, we have to proceed.
Scientific crop management is also an essential aspect of water conservation. For example, a field of barley requires less water to grow than a field of vegetables. If there are two fields side by side, one of barley and the other of vegetables, the vegetable crop will consume only seventy-five percent of the water normally used to irrigate it. If the other twenty-five percent is allowed to run off to the barley crop, that water will be sufficient to irrigate the barley. The barley crop will not require any special irrigation facilities.
Fruit trees can store a large amount of water in their roots, so they should be planted along river banks and near paddy fields to help conserve water. After the paddy harvest at Ánanda Nagar, for example, the water flows into the two rivulets – the Alkananda and the Paragati – leaving the fields dry. After a short time the rivulets also dry up as their supply of seepage water from the fields stops. To solve this problem, fruit trees should be planted beside the rivulets. The water stored in the roots of the fruit trees will keep the soil moist and fertile. Care should be taken so that the branches of the fruit trees do not block the sunlight from the crops. If this system is followed, when the paddy is cut and the fields are drained of water, the rivulets will remain flowing. If fruit trees are planted along the banks of a river, it will always retain water.
Foolish human beings, however, have cut down all the trees along the river banks, so now many rivers have dried up. Who would believe that 150 years ago large boats used to travel along the Mayuraksi Rriver in Bengal? Today it is a small river, and in the rainy season small boats only ply along it. The forests around the river have all gone. The forest trees contain water in their root systems and release it in a controlled way which enables the rivers to flow regularly. Now you understand the utility of the forests.
Adjacent to the Mayuraksi River is the Katasu village where I once saw a fossilized mast of a ship. This proves that at one time large ships used to travel along the river. I have also seen the same thing along the Damodar River. Due to deforestation, these rivers are now drying up, and consequently there is less rainfall.
The inner spirit of our water conservation programme is that the amount of existing surface water should be immediately doubled. But it is preferable if it is increased tenfold. This can best be done by a decentralized approach to water management which increases the depth, the area, or both, of water storage systems. The first step is to increase the depth of those ponds, tanks, dams, lakes, rivers and reservoirs which are already being used for storing water. The second step is to increase the area of these storage facilities, while the third step is to increase the plantations around them. How can these plantations be increased by a factor of ten? By increasing the number of rows of plants around each water storage system five times, and by reducing the distance between each plant by half. In addition to this, many new small-scale ponds, tanks, dams, lakes and reservoirs should also be constructed. As a general rule, surface water should always be utilized in preference to subterranean water.
You must prepare yourselves. The sphere of knowledge, the span of knowledge and the expansion of knowledge starts with the self. Humanity is waiting for you. You know what you are and what the world expects from you. You have to solve all the problems in the world today. You should prepare detailed plans and programmes and act accordingly. You must be the vanguard.
March 1989, Calcutta