Beyond terrorism, it is the threat of religious conservatism that unites India and Israel

As Narendra Modi makes his second visit to Israel, this time as prime minister of India, here are a few thoughts on that nation and our relationship with it.

The founding of Israel was a morally illegitimate act precipitated by a European colonial power acting in concert with European Zionists against the native population of the land. At some point, however, attempting to reverse a morally illegitimate act can itself become morally illegitimate. José Arcadio Buendía says, in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, “A person does not belong to a place until there is someone dead under the ground.” There are more than enough Israelis dead under the ground to justify the nation’s status as the homeland of those still alive. Supporting its continued existence need not any longer be based upon an acceptance of the theological basis of its founding.

The Palestinian Cause

The issue of Palestine remains unresolved, of course, and the current Israeli administration has shown even less inclination than past ones to negotiate a two-state solution. On the flipside, Muslim-majority nations in the region have for decades used the issue of Palestine to mask their own inadequacies and internal dissensions. The mask began to slip once Barack Obama told leaders of West Asian nations to fight their own battles. Now it has fallen off entirely, and Palestine can no longer be presented as the fundamental ethical issue facing the Middle East.

If Palestine is but one among a number of serious matters of contention in the region, the Indian prime minister’s visit to Israel is as justifiable as his earlier visit to Saudi Arabia, home to one of the world’s most ghastly regimes. And with the profile of the Palestinian cause shrinking on the international community’s radar, Modi’s refusal to travel to the West Bank during his Israel visit has caused less controversy than it would have done a few years ago.

Oil and Weapons

We need Israel just as we need Saudi Arabia. The latter sells us oil and provides jobs for working class Indian migrants, the former sells us precious military hardware and agricultural technology. It should be embarrassing, if not shameful, that a nation of over a billion people has to import weaponry from one that has less than a hundredth as many citizens and was founded a mere 70 years ago. For some reason, though, our abject failure to develop indigenous arms technologies has never given rise to a sense of humiliation among nationalists. We are convinced we are on our way to becoming a global superpower, though one of the qualities shared by superpowers for centuries has been self-sufficiency in arms technology.

For Israel, the appeal of India is obvious. When Israelis look east, they see a succession of politically and culturally hostile nations until they reach a place where their youth can hang out smoking weed after a hard year in the army without facing hatred or discrimination. Benjamin Netanyahu shares with Narendra Modi and Donald Trump a hatred of Islam and Muslims, though he and Modi are more sly in their expression of it than the US President.

A common threat

Israel, India and all the countries between them face a common threat. The threat, most pronounced in Muslim-majority countries, is growing in India under the Hindu nationalist administration, and might also undercut some of Israel’s achievements in the future. I am speaking about the threat of religious conservatism, which is quite different from that of terrorism.

Israel’s success makes clear that the creation of an economy based on knowledge is the surest way to sustainable economic gains in the world today. In contrast, much of the Middle East depends on a single commodity, oil, which will soon become redundant. Many of the nations that today depend on oil exports have nothing in place to replace it. I am convinced that Abu Dhabi and its ilk will suffer the same fate by the middle of the 21st century as cities like Detroit did towards the end of the 20th.

India is lucky, in a sense, to be relatively resource poor. It must depend on the hard work and ingenuity of its citizens to grow wealthier. Unfortunately, our educational system is so narrowly instrumental that it closes horizons instead of broadening them, leading to a shortfall in original science research and technological innovation. The Modi government has exacerbated the problem by focusing on trying to validate traditional Hindu beliefs and practices. Its bovine obsession hasn’t yet seriously affected our already weak innovation output, but the effect of diverting resources towards finding uses for cow faeces and urine will be felt down the line.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men scuffle with Israeli policemen. Image credit: Reuters/Oren NahshonUltra-Orthodox Jewish men scuffle with Israeli policemen. Image credit: Reuters/Oren Nahshon

Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox

Israel, meanwhile, faces a peculiar demographic crisis. A little background will help explain it. Although Israel was created as a Jewish homeland, its early leaders belonged to the secular Left. Some ultra-religious Jewish denominations actually opposed Israel’s creation on the grounds that the nation had to emerge not as the result of human action but as a miracle performed by God. Most members of ultra-orthodox sects within Israel today survive on state doles, do little work, and send their children to the Jewish equivalent of madrassas, known as Haredi schools. Haredi schools offer very little secular education, and Benjamin Netanyahu has rolled back regulations that enforced a core curriculum on schools that received state funds. It seems a reasonable condition: you want to be funded by taxes, then teach your students some maths, some English, some science. It will help them get jobs should they choose to spend their time on something beside religious scripture. But right-wing religious parties in Netanyahu’s coalition would have none of it.

This wouldn’t be an issue had the population of the ultra-orthodox stayed tiny. But in Israel, as everywhere, liberals have fewer children than religious conservatives. The average Haredi woman produces 6.2 children and the average non-Haredi woman just 2.4. As a result, while Haredis are 10% of Israel’s population, their number is growing rapidly, and a full 25% of Jewish children in Israel today attend Haredi schools. Which is another way of saying that one in every four Israeli students is getting little or no secular education and will grow to adulthood ill-equipped to contribute to a knowledge-based economy.

The mixing of religion and politics poses an even greater danger to Israel than it does to India.

According to a UN report, around 1.2 billion people, or almost one fifth of the world’s population, live in areas where water is physically scarce and another 1.6 billion people, or nearly one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage. They lack basic access to water. The criticality of the water situation across the world has in fact given rise to speculations over water wars becoming a distinct possibility in the future. In India the problem is compounded, given the rising population and urbanization. The Asian Development Bank has forecast that by 2030, India will have a water deficit of 50%.

Water challenges in urban India

For urban India, the situation is critical. In 2015, about 377 million Indians lived in urban areas and by 2030, the urban population is expected to rise to 590 million. Already, according to the National Sample Survey, only 47% of urban households have individual water connections and about 40% to 50% of water is reportedly lost in distribution systems due to various reasons. Further, as per the 2011 census, only 32.7% of urban Indian households are connected to a piped sewerage system.

Any comprehensive solution to address the water problem in urban India needs to take into account the specific challenges around water management and distribution:

Pressure on water sources: Rising demand on water means rising pressure on water sources, especially in cities. In a city like Mumbai for example, 3,750 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of water, including water for commercial and industrial use, is available, whereas 4,500 MLD is needed. The primary sources of water for cities like Mumbai are lakes created by dams across rivers near the city. Distributing the available water means providing 386,971 connections to the city’s roughly 13 million residents. When distribution becomes challenging, the workaround is to tap ground water. According to a study by the Centre for Science and Environment, 48% of urban water supply in India comes from ground water. Ground water exploitation for commercial and domestic use in most cities is leading to reduction in ground water level.

Distribution and water loss issues: Distribution challenges, such as water loss due to theft, pilferage, leaky pipes and faulty meter readings, result in unequal and unregulated distribution of water. In New Delhi, for example, water distribution loss was reported to be about 40% as per a study. In Mumbai, where most residents get only 2-5 hours of water supply per day, the non-revenue water loss is about 27% of the overall water supply. This strains the municipal body’s budget and impacts the improvement of distribution infrastructure. Factors such as difficult terrain and legal issues over buildings also affect water supply to many parts. According to a study, only 5% of piped water reaches slum areas in 42 Indian cities, including New Delhi. A 2011 study also found that 95% of households in slum areas in Mumbai’s Kaula Bunder district, in some seasons, use less than the WHO-recommended minimum of 50 litres per capita per day.

Water pollution and contamination: In India, almost 400,000 children die every year of diarrhea, primarily due to contaminated water. According to a 2017 report, 630 million people in the South East Asian countries, including India, use faeces-contaminated drinking water source, becoming susceptible to a range of diseases. Industrial waste is also a major cause for water contamination, particularly antibiotic ingredients released into rivers and soils by pharma companies. A Guardian report talks about pollution from drug companies, particularly those in India and China, resulting in the creation of drug-resistant superbugs. The report cites a study which indicates that by 2050, the total death toll worldwide due to infection by drug resistant bacteria could reach 10 million people.

A holistic approach to tackling water challenges

Addressing these challenges and improving access to clean water for all needs a combination of short-term and medium-term solutions. It also means involving the community and various stakeholders in implementing the solutions. This is the crux of the recommendations put forth by BASF.

The proposed solutions, based on a study of water issues in cities such as Mumbai, take into account different aspects of water management and distribution. Backed by a close understanding of the cost implications, they can make a difference in tackling urban water challenges. These solutions include:

Recycling and harvesting: Raw sewage water which is dumped into oceans damages the coastal eco-system. Instead, this could be used as a cheaper alternative to fresh water for industrial purposes. According to a 2011 World Bank report, 13% of total freshwater withdrawal in India is for industrial use. What’s more, the industrial demand for water is expected to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year till 2025. Much of this demand can be met by recycling and treating sewage water. In Mumbai for example, 3000 MLD of sewage water is released, almost 80% of fresh water availability. This can be purified and utilised for industrial needs. An example of recycled sewage water being used for industrial purpose is the 30 MLD waste water treatment facility at Gandhinagar and Anjar in Gujarat set up by Welspun India Ltd.

Another example is the proposal by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) to recycle and reclaim sewage water treated at its existing facilities to meet the secondary purposes of both industries and residential complexes. In fact, residential complexes can similarly recycle and re-use their waste water for secondary purposes such as gardening.

Also, alternative rain water harvesting methods such as harvesting rain water from concrete surfaces using porous concrete can be used to supplement roof-top rain water harvesting, to help replenish ground water.

Community initiatives to supplement regular water supply: Initiatives such as community water storage and decentralised treatment facilities, including elevated water towers or reservoirs and water ATMs, based on a realistic understanding of the costs involved, can help support the city’s water distribution. Water towers or elevated reservoirs with onsite filters can also help optimise the space available for water distribution in congested cities. Water ATMs, which are automated water dispensing units that can be accessed with a smart card or an app, can ensure metered supply of safe water.

Testing and purification: With water contamination being a big challenge, the adoption of affordable and reliable multi-household water filter systems which are electricity free and easy to use can help, to some extent, access to safe drinking water at a domestic level. Also, the use of household water testing kits and the installation of water quality sensors on pipes, that send out alerts on water contamination, can create awareness of water contamination and drive suitable preventive steps.

Public awareness and use of technology: Public awareness campaigns, tax incentives for water conservation and the use of technology interfaces can also go a long way in addressing the water problem. For example, measures such as water credits can be introduced with tax benefits as incentives for efficient use and recycling of water. Similarly, government water apps, like that of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, can be used to spread tips on water saving, report leakage or send updates on water quality.

Collaborative approach: Finally, a collaborative approach like the adoption of a public-private partnership model for water projects can help. There are already examples of best practices here. For example, in Netherlands, water companies are incorporated as private companies, with the local and national governments being majority shareholders. Involving citizens through social business models for decentralised water supply, treatment or storage installations like water ATMs, as also the appointment of water guardians who can report on various aspects of water supply and usage can help in efficient water management. Grass-root level organizations could be partnered with for programmes to spread awareness on water safety and conservation.

For BASF, the proposed solutions are an extension of their close engagement with developing water management and water treatment solutions. The products developed specially for waste and drinking water treatment, such as Zetag® ULTRA and Magnafloc® LT, focus on ensuring sustainability, efficiency and cost effectiveness in the water and sludge treatment process.

BASF is also associated with operations of Reliance Industries’ desalination plant at Jamnagar in Gujarat.The thermal plant is designed to deliver up to 170,000 cubic meters of processed water per day. The use of inge® ultrafiltration technologies allows a continuous delivery of pre-filtered water at a consistent high-quality level, while the dosage of the Sokalan® PM 15 I protects the desalination plant from scaling. This combination of BASF’s expertise minimises the energy footprint of the plant and secures water supply independent of the seasonal fluctuations. To know more about BASF’s range of sustainable solutions and innovative chemical products for the water industry, see here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.