Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hot Commodity (or is it actually the coolest one) in Transit - Import to India

Dear (s) 

There are things which the present generation would never know, understand or imagine about. If you are above 40 (born before 1970 – and lived in rural India – this could be a very common thing)

Those days, there was no concept of carrying water even when water was scarce. In schools or at any public places, there would be a water tank (the very thought and the looks would be scary to the modern day youngsters and their mothers who once drank from the same source) – there may not be tumblers or receptacles but open the tab, keep your hand in a manner that the falling water finds its way to mouth was the way all followed. None ever thought of opening the tank to see how it looked, how frequently it was cleaned or how hygiene it was. Railways had in their employment water quenchers (mostly old ladies) providing water in mugs to passengers. Old people used to take a vessel (called kooja) containing hot coffee but not water. Those days none thought of packaged or bottled water. People used to drink water from wells, tanks, hand pumps on roads and everywhere. Now some are fussy even about the brands of (mineral !) water.

It is difficult to understand how water from being a natural resource to a high profit oriented commercial product in a few years and how we are turning poorer. A visit to bus stands and Railway stations would make you realize how much of water is being sold. Apart from being convenient, are there really legitimate reasons to buy them ? Are we just aping Western culture – as the per capita consumption of bottled water is ever increasing. Here is some interesting statistics :-

(which is available for the period 1999-2004) – units in litres per person per year. Italy, Mexico, UAE top the list, India with its vast population is very much low in the list. But you must remember that India is highly lop sided – millions still do not have access to potable water whilst some survive on mineral water. (source www.worldwater.org). An inspiration to this article is www.circleofblue.org which is an International network of journalists, scholars and citizens on the global fresh water crisis. It states that over 1 billion don’t have access to clean drinking water, more than twice the number lack access to adequate sanitation and millions die every year due to preventable water related diseases. The water is threatened by climate change, misuse and pollution.

Being passionate about Marine Insurance have read about many bulk cargo – both in liquid and hard form. There are vessels known as Bulk carriers which are employed to carry large quantities of non packed commodities such as food grains (rice, wheat), coal, urea, potash, iron ore and more. There are tanker ships designed to transport liquids in bulk such as chemicals, edible oils, petroleum, liquefied natural gas etc.,

It is a fact of life that even in places ‘where there is water all around but nothing to drink’ – potable or water for drinking is scarce and the regions of water stress are increasing. Cashing on this, a Texas Company is offering to sell fresh mountain water in bulk at penny a gallon from the Blue lake reservoir off Alaska. Yes – a revolutionary attempt of sale of ‘water in bulk’.

This Company has announced its plan to ship 3 to 9 billion gallons of water a year from a small Alaskan town called Sitka to the West Coast of India. The city of Sitka is a water rich community of less than 10000 people located on Baranof island off Alaska. If this fructifies, this would be the World’s first regular bulk export of water via tanker. Depending on how much water gets shipped, the City could earn millions of dollars. Going by the reports, such exports had earlier been proposed to Canada and elsewhere but never came off due to logistics and concerns about natural resource sovereignty.


A Nation which had perennial rivers, the mountain glaciers of Himalayas unfortunately is also one where water is scarce. Rapid population growth, wasteful water consumption habits, depleted water tables, rising temperatures, problems in sharing water, some river wastefully ending up in ocean without proper usage all contribute to India’s woes.


As first put up by circle of blue in their web, S2C Global Systems has announced its proposal to supply billions of gallons of water from Alaska to India and other parts of Asia and Middle East. There have been predictions that fresh water would become the next ‘big oil’ of the world, with supplies in some areas growing exceedingly tight. BBC had predicted that more regions would turn water stressed by 2070.
                                      Water stress Regions 1990

                                                          Water Stress Regions 2070 

There have been technological attempts right from smart metering, irrigation management, purification, desalination but not good enough to reach the rural parts of India where water remains scarce. So perhaps Global companies would make profits by exporting water and the fate of poor countries would be unimaginable when they import water also.

The newsitem adds that S2C would start shipping water within eight months, using tankers that have a "Ozonating" system onboard to keep the water clean. It is claimed that Alaskan mountain water is so pure it requires no treatment except to remove organics that might be present through the natural cycle. The ozonating system in the ship holds will protect the water during the voyage period of 30 days from Alaska to Arabian sea.   Some homework seemingly has already gone into this – the first hub is to include a berth for a Suezmax vessel (156000 Cm), an offloading system, a dedicated tank form, a distribution complex – all for packaged water. When the business grows, they would switch to larger class vessels. Smaller ships can deliver to shallow ports. It is also bad news that there appears to be no concern or little opposition from the Alaskans.

They also need to realize – excess for now – may not for ever – and if exploited in abundance, there certainly would be impact to ecosytems, rivers, lakes and other water bodies.    For long, people were under the impression that Arabian Gulf is a oil place with no water and hence huge market. Despite the impression of a rainy place, there are areas in England where drought has its toll.

The great concern is INDIA is the destination for all Multinationals for selling their products : there are so much of potato wafers and other junk food, coke and other carbonated drinks, bottled water, so much of Cell phones and mobile users and now a market for packaged water from abroad. True globalization indeed.

When rivers run dry, climate changes, greenhouse effect takes place – there could be extreme droughts. Hence buying water could never be a solution, there needs immediate thought on changes in water use habits, conserving the ecology, long term sustenance of water bodies and more for leaving a better World to future generations.


Regards – Sampathkumar S

1 comment:

  1. well written sampath ji. most of us never thought, till early 1990s, that we would BUY drinking water. MNCs and TNCs are hell bent on creating a doubt in the minds of the Indians about the drinkability of natural piped water - cashing on it to sell water. Unfortunately most of us have adapted to buying drinking water and look down at people who drink piped water -kannan

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