Embracing Our Rivers” – A Note by Helmut Schippert

Helmut Schippert

Water is what the Greek called a res publica, a re-publican affair. The magnitude of the problems requires politics in a modern democracy to leave behind its prevailing infantile and absurd forms of individualism and to turn instead to collective reflection, discussion and action”

Are we deranged? Fabulous Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh, says in his highly acclaimed last book that future generations may well think so. They may accuse us of having collectively failed to confront climate change. But what is that force that makes us ignore or repress what is our major future challenge and what should be our top priority of action? The same crisis of culture and society, of imagination and action prevails with water,which should be our most protected common good. India faces huge water problems. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) expects severe water crises and conflicts in India latest by 2025. Already in 2014 this was discussed at the world’s most important Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, Germany. While I write this text, there are riots and police interventions in Bangalore because Karnataka has to release water from River Cauvery to Tamil Nadu. In March 2016 a 2300 MW power-plant was shut down for 10 days due to water shortage in the Ganga. BBC News India headlined: “Is India facing its worst-ever water crisis?” The answer is simple, yet alarming: YES!

“The devastating effects of the floods, end of 2015, have brought the alarming water reality back to the collective awareness.”

Is there a way out of this? What can I do as an individual when problems are so huge and the established powers are not able to solve them, you will probably ask yourself? Yes, there are definite solutions for a turn-around, but they are tedious, complex, often ambiguous. We have the principal and existential choice described by Jared Diamond 2005 in his outstanding book, Collapse. How Societies Choose to Failor Succeed (2005). We may fail and extinguish our civilization, or we may succeed and create a sustainable future. Germany, being among the various countries to have realized this, is determined to find a path to success and sets an example that change is possible. Chennai has a strong potential of change, hopefully also a powerful will. Being favored by nature, the city is shaped by innumerable water bodies. Through the centuries people had not only handled this gift with ancient knowledge, spirituality and humility, but they had also culturally endowed it with many beautiful temple tanks filled with clear water. With rapid urbanization many water bodies are now highly polluted and people turn away shamefully from the damage done. The devastating effects of the floods, end of 2015, have brought the alarming water reality back to the collective awareness. Besides many being indifferent or fatalistic, there is a real chance for a turn-around as a lot of towns worldwide have shown.

“For too long water problems (as climate change) were regarded as a technological and scientific matter.”

Water is what the Greek called a res publica, a re-publican affair. The magnitude of the problems requires politics in a modern democracy to leave behind its prevailing infantile and absurd forms of individualism and to turn instead to collective reflection, discussion and action. For too long water problems (as climate change) were regarded as a technological and scientific matter. Now with a demand to re-imagine the mere forms of our human existence we have to shift the discussion from these narrow chambers to the wide horizons of culture and society.

Asked by The Hindu what are, in the face of the crisis, the key shifts in water management, the renowned water policy expert Mihir Shah, head of several national reform committees, says: “One, we must take a multidisciplinary view of water. Werequire professionals from disciplines other than just engineering and hydrogeology.Two, we need to adopt the participatory approach to water management that has been successfully tried all over the world…” (The Hindu, August 19, 2016). This quotation puts in a nutshell how the Goethe-Institut Chennai, Germany’s cultural institute, in wonderful cooperation and networking with numerous local, national and international partner institutions, focuses on the topic of “Water, Culture and Society” under the slogan EMBRACE OUR RIVERS. Together we will activate the creative power of ideas, free speech, culture and art in order to serve as catalyst for dialogue, participation and change.

“Together we will activate the creative power of ideas, free speech, culture and art in order to serve as catalyst for dialogue, participation and change.”