Opinion & Insights

Who Is Stealing India’s Water? The Emergence of Global Water Wars. PART 1

Written by Manny Sinder

Background information to this article before we start.

During December 2009 a report entitled ‘NASA Satellites Unlock Secret to Northern India’s Vanishing Water’, (which can be found by clicking this link http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/india_water.html ) appeared on their website. The report highlighted the continuously reducing water levels beneath ground level in Northern India. The report stated the following in reference to the water levels;

It is being pumped and consumed by human activities — principally to irrigate cropland — faster than the aquifers can be replenished by natural processes

The report quotes Rodell, who is based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt as saying;

“If measures are not taken to ensure sustainable groundwater usage, consequences for the 114 million residents of the region may include a collapse of agricultural output and severe shortages of potable water”

The report goes on further to state;

‘The northern Indian states of Rajasthan, Punjab and Haryana have all of the ingredients for groundwater depletion: staggering population growth, rapid economic development and water-hungry farms, which account for about 95 percent of groundwater use in the region’

The report also states the researchers had found that groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one meter every three years but then states ‘The loss is particularly alarming because it occurred when there were no unusual trends in rainfall. In fact, rainfall was slightly above normal for the period’.

The report goes on to say;

‘The researchers examined data and models of soil moisture, lake and reservoir storage, vegetation and glaciers in the nearby Himalayas, in order to confirm that the apparent groundwater trend was real. Nothing unusual showed up in the natural environment’.

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Having read this NASA report, I feel there are some large contradictions contained within it and this has brought me to question its accuracy and authenticity. The report states the issue may be related to the increase in population in northern India which has led to higher water consumption and ground water levels to diminish. The contradiction here is that any expansion of any urban environment is normally complimented by an equally decreasing suburban environment because a town or city cannot expand without suitable undeveloped land being available and that land comes from the suburbs and mainly agricultural land. This is especially true in northern India and since the reports states water consumption by agriculture in the area is 95% of total water consumption in the region, then any reduction in suburban / agricultural land and increase in urban dwellings should be benefitting the water supplies which the report is stating as being depleted increasingly. In other words, if agriculture is the largest consumer of water in northern India then the decreasing amount of agriculture should be helping to slow any water depletion. More general information on urbanisation can be found here http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/causes-and-effects-of-urban-sprawl.php and here http://thecostofsprawl.com/report/executive-summary.pdf

More worrying than the credibility of this NASA report is what India’s own media is relaying about this subject to the Indian population. Having read a number of newspaper reports I am very worried and troubled as to why Indian newspapers are clearly and obviously pushing an agenda against the unaware masses by blaming generational farmers who mostly farm ancestral land for the depletion of water levels and then favouring strong Government regulation against the farmers in order to limit them using water to grow their crops. A couple of these alarming articles can be found here (http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/comment/punjab-facing-a-veritable-water-crisis/124027.html) and here (http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/north-india-running-out-of-water-confirms-nasa/120110.html).

Is Wheat the water drinking devil crop?

The articles circulating India currently are not just blaming farmers from the State of Punjab for watering their crops (missing the fact that the water used to water crops will mostly finds its way back to its original location/source below ground level) but also blames crops such as Wheat for absorbing too much water and therefore holding them responsible for the depletion of the water supply.

In order to investigate this whole concept, I have collected key scientific information to compare the annual rain fall in the State of Punjab with the water absorption rate of the most popular crop in Punjab – Wheat, to see if the water depletion levels can indeed be blamed to crops, which incidentally are not new to the region. What we are trying to ascertain is if the Wheat crop absorbs more water than there is rainfall which would then support the NASA report, or is there plenty of surplus rain fall to replenish ground water levels which would then mean there is possibly another reason for the loss of water reserves.

 Punjab’s average rain fall

As per the information found on the website http://www.mapsofindia.com/maps/india/annualrainfall.htm, Punjab receives 40-60 cm of rain, 400-800 cm of rain and 60-80 cm of annual rain in three equal sized regions. The average (mean) is calculated as 166-313 cm of rain (annual) from which we can determine as 239 cm of rain per year as being the middle of the variables.

Punjab’s favourite crop

As per the information found on the website https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agriculture_in_India#/media/File:Major_crop_areas_India.png, Punjab’s main agricultural crop is Wheat. Though large parts of the State does not grow this ‘apprant’ water hungry crop as other crops are grown, we shall for the purpose of this study regard Wheat as being the key crop and thus calculate maximum water consumption.

So how much water does the Wheat crop drink exactly?

As per the information found on the website http://www.fao.org/nr/water/cropinfo_wheat.htm, each harvest of wheat takes 100-140 days for Spring Wheat and 120-160 days for Winter Wheat to grow for harvest during suitable growing conditions.

In the website https://agdev.anr.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?p=30, it states

‘Wheat water use is minimal until jointing, when the plant has some height to it. At jointing, wheat will use between 0.2 and 0.25 inches of water per day. At boot and heading stages, wheat is using around a quarter of an inch a day, and during grain development through the milk stage, wheat will use about 3 tenths of an inch a day. Once wheat hits the dough stage, water use drops off considerably’

For the purpose of this article, though the actual figure is much smaller, we shall calculate the total water consumption of a Wheat crop as 0.25 inches per day and when we mulitply this by the number of days each crop takes to grow and mature, we shall know how much water is lost to the Wheat crop. We shall not calculate the amount of land in Punjab which is not used for agriculture and assume that all land is being used for agriculture. Even though calculating the non agricultural land mass would support the farmers case, I have decided to give the benefit and advantage to NASA’s report.

The formula used to calculate water absorbtion is as follows;

0.25 inches x 140 days for Spring Wheat (higher of the two) = 35 inches / 88.9 cm / 889mm

0.25 inches x 160 days for Winter Wheat (higher of the two) = 40 inches / 101.6 cm / 1016 mm

Average water intake of Wheat per annum 95.25 cm, and when we compare this to Punjab’s average rainfall, 239 cm, it is evident that Punjab’s farmers and their crops are not responsible for the depletion of the water by watering their crops (which then feeds rest of the country and other parts of the world).

Variables in this simple calculation

By not excluding developed urban land in our calculation (which is not being used for agriculture), the calculation shows that rain fall is far more than the farmers can use for their crops. Furthermore, majority of any water pumped from wells for the purpose of watering crops shall and does find its way back into the ground.

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So who is stealing India’s water?

Well one possible indication to the reason behind the mysterious disappearance of India’s water may come from India’s neighbour who is also suffering from the exact same problem and is located on the boarder of the State of Punjab. Pakistan.

Like India, Pakistan’s Government has failed to provide the basic necessities for its citizens such as clean water. Furthermore, the dangers of unsafe drinking water has been growing substantially over the years in Pakistan and it has now become so dangerous that people are forced to buy bottled water in order to be sure that they do not become ill or worse.

The transition from being able to collect their own water to being forced to buy their own water is very well suited to the multi-national corporations such as Nestle, who has conveniently set up a number of bottling plants in Pakistan. More troubling than this rather convenient set-up is that Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, when operating as the Nestle CEO has been quoted as saying “access to water is not a public right.” His comments sent shockwaves around the world and many websites such as this one http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-privatisation-of-water-nestle-denies-that-water-is-a-fundamental-human-right/5332238 has written extensively of where the objectives of money making corporations which sell bottled water such as Nestle actually lie.

Regarding a documentary about the exploitation of Nestle’s water business in Pakistan, it was documented inhttp://www.worldcrunch.com/poisoning-well-nestl-accused-exploiting-water-supplies-bottled-brands/business-finance/poisoning-the-well-nestl-accused-of-exploiting-water-supplies-for-bottled-brands/c2s4503/#.UXEDk7VTCtY that a village in which Nestle had built a water bottling plant, the villagers had complained that the water on which they had relied on had now sank 400 ft and the local community were unable to have access to safe drinking water as the only remnants from the water bottling process was waste water which is completely unhealthy and a danger to human life.

There is another country which like Pakistan has been failed by its Government to protect what nature has given to all as free and where Nestle and other water bottling companies operate – Nigeria. In fact, Nigerians spend up to half of their income on water but only those who can afford it.

The website http://www.bottledlifefilm.com/index.php/the-story.html states;

“…water is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity. The Swiss film “Bottled Life” documents the booming business with bottled water, by focusing on the global leader in this lucrative multi-billion dollar market – namely, the Nestlé corporation in Switzerland. Nestlé currently controls more than 70 of the world’s bottled water brands, among them Perrier, San Pellegrino and Vittel”.

In fact Nestle’s operations are not limited to third world or developing countries. In the USA, Nestle and other large corporations are taking advantage of suitable legal conditions by buying land and pumping very large quantities of water, bottling it and selling it back to the public.

In a recent visit to family in California, I personally felt poorly after drinking the tap water there but luckily and like many Californians, my relatives were buying bottled water in order to stay healthy and well. The following websiteshttp://www.mintpressnews.com/nestle-continues-stealing-worlds-water-during-drought/203544/ andhttp://www.newsfocus.org/water_grab.htm has more information about this.

Water is a Commodity and Corporations make money by controlling it.

Could it be that the increasing water shortage has been created by large corporation’s hell bent on stealing water from local communities who rely on it to live as well as grow their food for personal consumption or agriculture? Well it would seem like they are. Bloomberg in October 2014 reported in the following reporthttp://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-10-08/farmers-fight-coca-cola-as-india-s-groundwater-dries-up that Indian farmers were seeing water levels disappearing after the appearance of a Coca Cola water bottling plant nearby and where the farmers were having to dig deeper and deeper wells. In another report about Coca Cola by the Guardian newspaper (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2003/jul/25/water.india) the article stated;

‘The largest Coca-Cola plant in India is being accused of putting thousands of farmers out of work by draining the water that feeds their wells, and poisoning the land with waste sludge that the company claims is fertiliser‘


‘The company denies the shortages have anything to do with its use of up to 1m litres of water a day from the underground aquifer that used to keep the wells topped up‘


‘The report says Plachimada was a thriving agricultural community until Coca-Cola set up the bottling plant in 1998. Coconut groves and vegetable crops have had to be abandoned because of the lack of water‘


Samples taken in India and analysed by Exeter University show high levels of lead and cadmium in the sludge‘

Lead is particularly bad for children, affecting their nervous system, and cadmium is taken up by plants, is toxic to the kidneys and liver and can cause cancer‘

Coca Cola of course denies the accusations but I am sure that nobody is surprised there.

In the website http://scienceblogs.com/primatediaries/2010/03/11/coca-cola-in-india-good-till-t/ Indian journalist Arjun Sen is quoted when he wrote the article http://www.countercurrents.org/glo-sen190803.htm ;

“Three years ago, the little patch of land in the green, picturesque rolling hills of Palakkad yielded 50 sacks of rice and 1,500 coconuts a year. It provided work for dozens of labourers. Then Coke arrived and built a 40-acre bottling plant nearby. In his last harvest, Shahul Hameed, owner of a smallholding, could manage only five sacks of rice and just 200 coconuts. His irrigation wells have run dry, thanks to Coke drawing up to 1.5 million litres of water daily through its deep wells to bottle Coke, Fanta, Sprite, and the drink the locals call without irony, “Thumbs Up.”

In his article, Arjun goes on to say;

In Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, people have been protesting against Coke’s bottling plants because they’ve depleted groundwater level and damaged the environment”

In the same article Arjun highlights ‘some’ of the other crimes Coca Cola may have committed.

“The world’s most well recognised brand name’s Latin American bottler is facing trial for allegedly hiring Right-wing paramilitary forces (death squads) to kill and intimidate trade union organisers,

especially from SINALTRAINAL. The suit has been brought under the Alien Tort Claims Act, that allows corporations to be sued in the USA for crimes committed overseas”.

“Holding Coke responsible for the harms it causes is nothing new. In May 2003, Coca-Cola de Panama was fined US $300,000 for polluting Matasnillo river in that country”

But bottled water is not the only reason why Coca Cola is leaving local communities in India struggling for water. In February 2014, the Financial Times reported (http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/16d888d4-f790-11e3-b2cf-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3k0T3VswS) the following;

A Coca-Cola bottling plant has been ordered to close in northern India after local farmers blamed it for using too much water, creating fresh headaches for the world’s biggest soft-drinks maker in one of its most important markets’

So what about Punjab?

Why  are Punjabis digging deeper and deeper wells and being bombarded with inaccurate news from the mainstream media about the shortage of water and blaimg them for it and not mentioning the big water bottling corporations? Well, from Nestle’s own website (one of many water bottling companies operating in Punjab and India), it highlights exactly where exactly their watering plants are located. (https://www.nestle.in/aboutus/presenceacrossindia). As you will see from their own information, they have factories and offices located in north India and Punjabi farmers will not be surprised to learn of the large factory Nestle has in the heart of their state.

If you are interesting in reading about the history of Punjab’s unconstitutional and unlawful deprivation of water, then this website has some good information (http://www.sikhcoalition.org/resources/about-sikhs/articles/history/current-issues)


End of Part 1

Part 2 of this report shall highlight the how water is being used as a weapon, what future investment opportunities in water are and the future food trends emerging.

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(Image courtesy winnond at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

About the author

Manny Sinder

Manny Sinder is a professional trader, entrepreneur and author. All articles written by the author are solely his opinion and do not intend to vindicate any named person or institutions mentioned.


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