The terms scarcity and optimization are commonplace for anyone who is pursuing his studies in Economics. I, being a PhD student in Economics, got acquainted with these terms since my under graduation. A developing nation or the third world nation as we are called, is plagued with several manifestations of scarcity. Be it the case of utilizing our forest resources, land resources or any of the natural resources that are available to us, the optimization demands that we achieve our objective of maximizing social gains at a minimum social cost given the assumption that these resources are scarce. Mention of Water-Diamond paradox in this write up is quite germane and befitting as that will justify my purpose of putting so much importance on term “Scarcity”. Classical economists, especially Adam Smith, were baffled because of a paradox which they could not crack at that point of time is popularly known as “Water-Diamond Paradox”. The conundrum which they could not resolve was that Water, despite being the source of life and so cardinal for the existence of living beings, is so undervalued in comparison to a diamond which is nothing but a piece of stone which at the max can accentuate your beauty. The bottom line here is that diamonds are valued much more because they are scarce. A lot of hunting goes on to find a raw diamond and then after incurring colossal processing costs, you finally see a piece of sheer perfectness that pleases everyone around you. On the other hand, water is available everywhere and at least to the naked eye, it doesn’t seem to be scarce. As long as you have an access to water whenever you need it, you do not value it even close to anything which is of some importance to you, forget about diamonds.
Let’s take a hypothetical situation where the things are other way round. Trust me, that day is not a distant possibility when you see that most of the inland water bodies have dried up and you have no access to drinking water. That will be the day when water will be worth more than your most precious diamonds. At the international level, there are many countries which are currently facing these adverse situations e.g. Middle East. Right now they are not importing water directly but their virtual water imports are very high. Virtual water imports are the imports which are virtually embedded in the traded commodities like agricultural products. Water is used in irrigating crops which in turn are exported to other nations. The Middle East has been able to withstand such a calamity because of their huge oil reserves which they can trade for the products that are water intensive. But are we in any position to transcend such calamity by virtually trading water for anything that we have in abundance? I don’t think so. As I mentioned previously, we are already in a quagmire of plethora of scarcities from which we are trying to pull ourselves out. That day will be the day we will be cursing ourselves because our erroneous prioritization of the order of things and there will be nothing we would be able to do to come out of this precarious situation. If you haven’t been able to foresee this calamity, then it’s high time that you started visualizing it and start correcting yourselves. In certain pockets of India, the issue of water scarcity has rung alarm bells. The Times of India reported in their article published in the issue of September 9th where they said that 22 out of 32 big cities will be facing water issues of which Jamshedpur will be hit the hardest.
I am not writing this to strike fear in your minds and many of you may find this write up quite polemical. My sole motivation is to put enough sense in you so that you can start correcting yourselves at this very point so that you don’t have to delve with this situation in the coming future. We do not need rocket science to prevent the advent of this water scarcity but simple set of things which we can start doing at our homes to preserve water. Firstly, start educating your children of the importance of water so that the very fact that water is scarce and crucial for sustenance of life, gets imbued in their minds. Secondly, as Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “Be the change you wish to see”. To put in simple words you got to set an example for the rest of the society by implementing small things like not polluting the water bodies in your neighborhood and using the water judiciously for all your needs rather than wasting it. Thirdly, if you see anybody indulging in any such activity which is leading to water wastage then step forward and advise him or her to not to do the same.
All said and done, we need to understand the importance of such natural resources upon which our life is contingent. We need to understand that even though two-third of the globe is Water but the quality water which is of use for us is getting scarce. Ignoring its role in our life and being oblivious to the fact that such an impasse or crisis is knocking at our doors, is like putting another nail in our coffin. I just hope that we soon realize our collective responsibilities and bring the required change in our mindsets and actions so that humanity will be able to avert this water crisis.
PhD Scholar in Economics
Institute for social and Economic Change