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July 15, 2019

Geeta Kumari: Running out of water

Geeta Kumari is a graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at MSU. She is pursuing a Ph.D. under the dual Ph.D. program in conjunction with Indian Institute of Technology Madras, India and is working on next-generation turbine engine materials, the superalloy.

It is often said that "Water is Life" because no living being can survive without water. Whenever we are really thirsty, no fancy drink can substitute for water to quench the thirst. Whenever scientists look for extraterrestrial life, the first thing they look for is the sign of water.

But why is it so important?

What implications can it have on our lives? What if one morning you wake up to witness no source of water available? Does this sound scary?

Living so close to the Great Lakes, it seems silly to imagine such a thing. But not for me. I still get goosebumps whenever I remember that morning.

I grew up in Hazaribag, a small town in the state of Jharkhand in India. A family of five including my parents, two siblings and I lived together. Like every year, I was excited to start my summer vacation in 2010, but little did I know then that it was going to be a very different summer in India.

In those days, the major source of water in our region was through wells. However, it was not potable. The drinking water used to be supplied by the municipality through a pipe system for only a couple of hours every morning.

One morning we woke up to refill our water storage as usual, but there was none. That day we had to use the leftover water from the previous day which we typically threw away. There was still no water the next day, so we had to borrow some from our neighbors.

This struggle continued for a few days but the municipality water didn’t return as the nearest freshwater source (dam) had dried up. Eventually, the government arranged for a water tanker to be delivered, but that was limited to once a week. I still remember how we filled every single container in our house to ensure we had adequate water for the week. Nothing was spared.

It might sound crazy, but it felt like we even had to fill the spoons. Being a lower-middle class family, we couldn’t even fathom having a private fresh water source like others in the neighborhood. The struggle continued for around 45-50 days until the monsoons arrived and it started raining again. That summer taught me a lesson for life.

In Michigan, my situation is completely opposite. The continual supply of freshwater is a privilege I cherish above all else. However, old habits don’t die easily, and I am still mindful of using water. I was once mocked by a friend for shutting off the water too soon! His exact statement was “Chill, this is Michigan.” This got me thinking about whether it was really appropriate to waste water due to its abundant supply.

Writing this article was inspired by a discussion on the recent water crisis in the city of Chennai in India. It is hard to believe but a city of 7 million people is literally out of water. Some of my friends in university (IITM) there report that there isn’t enough water even to tend to sanitation during periods (menstruation). Hearing this I got mixed feelings. I was definitely sad for them but at the same time, I thanked God that I do not have to go through that anymore.

I wonder how many of us genuinely care about the water crisis. If we do not do anything, then the day is not far off when our kids will question us for their quality of life. We all need to stop and consider whether the luxuries we possess today are worth compromising the basic needs of our kids tomorrow.