Monday, August 17, 2009

Protesting the lack of water and power in India

Protests flare up often in India. Water and power shortages are prevalent in the country, so people will take to the streets and block traffic to demand more from their government.

An article from the Los Angeles Times provides an eyewitness view of one such protest. Reporter Mark Magnier was present at a protest that did bring out a government official.

The rage surged through the crowd, mixing with the heat, the sweat and the frustration to create a volatile stew, as several hundred locals incensed over power and water shortages blocked the main Alwar Road here Wednesday.

Most residents said they hadn't seen a lightbulb's worth of energy come through their wires in the last 60 hours, and this after suffering protracted cuts for the last month. With no power to pump well water, some said they had to walk miles to find a hand pump. Others said they were paying up to a third of their meager incomes to price-gouging drivers of water trucks.

Localized eruptions like this one, most unreported, occur hundreds of times each week across India, where this year the situation has been made worse by unusually light monsoon rains. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and Rajasthan are among the hardest-hit areas.

Experts say the shortages could be the result of global warming or natural cycles. That hasn't provided much solace to farmers like these in eastern Rajasthan as they watch their crops die, their livelihoods wither, their children go thirsty.

Rajasthan, which abuts Pakistan, is heavily dependent on hydroelectric power, as are many other drought-hit states. With water levels down, turbines aren't turning, taxing India's overextended infrastructure and fraying tempers.

Blocking roadways is a time-worn way to draw a response from officials, particularly for rural communities. A protest last year in Rajasthan over access to government jobs shut down the national highway for a month.

"No one ever listens to us unless we block the road," said Kishan Saini, 27 and unemployed, one of the leaders of the 2 1/2 -hour protest here Wednesday. "This is the worst shortage I've seen in my lifetime. We'll keep doing this for as long as it takes to get some action."

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