With the worst water crisis in India’s history upon us, it is clear that we must change how we use water. Nearly 600 million Indians are experiencing high to extreme water-related hardships, and about 200,000 humans continue to perish annually from inadequate access to safe water.
Chennai’s four reservoirs, which supply to more than 4 million residents, are now bone-dry, and the city is being forced to rely on government water tankers or alternative sources, which are already causing water-borne illness.
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But there is hope: among the least expensive and most effective ways to conserve water is to go vegan. Per one estimate, each person who goes vegan saves over 995,500 litres of water a year.
163 Million Indians Lack Access To Safe Water
According to a study published by the renowned journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the practice of raising animals for meat, eggs, and dairy sucks up one-third of the world's freshwater resources, which we simply cannot afford to lose at this critical stage. The number of Indians lacking access to safe water is 163 million, and according to a World Bank report, 40 percent of our country's population will not have access to safe drinking water by 2030.
It takes a colossal amount of water to grow crops for animals to eat, clean filthy factory farms, and to hydrate the animals that are used and killed for food. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes 322 litres of water to produce 1 kilogram of vegetables – but it takes 1,020 litres of water to produce one litre of cow’s milk, 3,265 litres of water to produce a kilogram of eggs, and 15,415 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef. In fact, you could save more water by not eating a half-kilo of meat than you could if you didn't shower for six months.
Impact Of Waste From Animal Farming
Animal agriculture is also responsible for more water pollution than all other industrial sources combined. It taints our streams, rivers, and oceans, and can spread diseases to animals and humans. According to a 2009 report by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF), an estimated 70 percent of India's surface water, as well as an increasing percentage of our groundwater is contaminated by animal waste and runoff from pesticides and fertilizers used on feed crops.
India’s meat industry generated 3.5 million tonnes of wastewater in 2007 alone, which is nearly 100 times as much wastewater as our sugar industry produces, and 150 times more than fertilizer manufacturers produce.
Waste from animal agriculture also causes dead zones in the ocean – areas where there is not enough oxygen to support aquatic life.
Is Rearing Cattle Worse For Global Warming Than Driving Cars?
The water crisis is a catastrophic problem that will only get worse, especially given the fact that global warming – which is already wreaking havoc in India and several other parts of the world – causes temperatures to rise, and raid desertification, depriving crops of the water they need in order to yield food.
According to a new NITI Aayog report, 21 cities – including Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Chennai – will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.
NITI Aayog has called for urgent action, as growing water scarcity will also endanger India's food security. Animal agriculture dominates one-third of the world's cropland, which could be used to grow crops to feed hungry humans instead, and is said to be responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than the entire transportation sector worldwide.
Why Going Vegan Will Help Humans, Animals, And Earth
India cannot afford to keep using our precious water and other resources for raising animals for consumption. The British risk-consultancy firm, Verisk Maplecroft, listed India among the ‘extreme risk’ countries that will suffer most acutely from the economic impacts of climate change by 2025. As of 2013, the annual cost of environmental degradation had already cost our country about Rs 3.75 trillion, which was approximately 5.7 percent of the GDP at that time.
Thankfully, everyone has the power to save water by going vegan, a move that will benefit both animals and human health.
If everyone goes vegan, we could safeguard our water resources, and also prevent human deaths from health conditions linked to meat consumption, and cut global greenhouse-gas emissions by 70 percent by 2050. So, what are we waiting for? In many places, the tap has already run dry.
(Dr Kiran Ahuja (BPTh, DNHE) is the vegan outreach coordinator, PETA India. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)