Third World War over water looming: Green warrior Bahuguna (Interview)

May 19th, 2009 - 9:50 am ICT by IANS  

By Alkesh Sharma
Chandigarh, May 19 (IANS) Green warrior Sunderlal Bahuguna, who has spent his life working for sustainable development, especially in the Himalayas, and pioneered the Chipko movement in the 1970s to save trees, thinks a third world war over water will be inevitable if governments do not wake up now.

Padma Vibhushan award winner Bahuguna told IANS in an interview here: “Nations all across the world are facing a water crisis that is deepening with the passing of each day. This is because of drastic changes that our ecology has undergone in the past few decades.

“There is untimely rainfall, scorching summers, unbearable winters, rampant droughts and floods. Everything has become so unpredictable and ironically it is all due to the unmindful activities of the most intelligent species on the earth, human beings.”

Bahuguna, winner of the ‘Asian Nobel Prize’, the Magsaysay award, was sure that “the situation demands immediate notice and remedial measures from our governments and policymakers. Otherwise, mankind has to face the wrath of an inevitable third world war on the issue of water.”

He said that the first and second world wars were the outcome of “intense gluttony of western countries to attain power and monopoly over the world’s resources. These wars had destroyed many nations and the present world cannot withstand the rage of any more such warfare”.

Bahuguna was here recently to take part in a convention of peace and environment clubs. He reminisced about the start of the Chipko movement in the Himalayas, when the locals protected trees by hugging (chipko) them when government-backed contractors arrived to cut them down.

“I also met former prime minister Indira Gandhi during the Chipko movement, who expressed firm belief in my ideology and announced a ban on the felling of trees. She had a great eco-sense that is missing in present-day politicians,” said Bahuguna.

“There were some chief ministers of that time who were opposing this move but she threatened to stop their national grants if they did not comply.”

Bahuguna said: “I do not want any award or recognition but I want more and more people to adopt my path. I had refused to accept the Padam Shri award in 1981, as I was very distressed with the government’s approach of blindly cutting trees all over the country.”

For him, the “heartrending truth of present day is that the economy has clearly outweighed ecology. Everybody perceives trees as a sole source of timber but they have forgotten that the integral purpose of trees is to provide oxygen, soil and water and furthermore to clean the environment by absorbing carbon dioxide.”

Bahuguna is equally famous for his opposition to the Tehri dam on the Bhagirathi river, one of the main tributaries of the Ganga. It is one of the world’s largest and most controversial hydroelectric projects.

“They did not listen to anyone and forcibly ousted thousands of families,” Bahuguna told IANS, referring to the displacement of people from Tehri town in Uttarakhand, about 300 km from New Delhi. “This dam has ruined the homes and lands of around 100,000 people. But I am not dejected and my fight is still on against this dam and any such project in any part of the world.”

With a height of 260 metres (855 feet), the Tehri dam is the fifth tallest in the world. Bahuguna said: “Dams are no solution to increasing water woes. We build huge dams and interfere in the natural flow of water by diverting its path. It has been scientifically proven that such activities take away the life of water and this stored water is called dead water.”

“Normally governments of any nation always look for immediate solutions and in the whole process ignore future consequences. I appeal to the government of India to formulate a comprehensive ‘Himalaya programme’ that will act as a replica for other nations to preserve trees and water resources.”

Bahuguna is a staunch follower of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence. “At the age of 13, I met Gandhiji’s follower Sridev Suman who influenced my life very much. He taught me the principles of Gandhiji. Impressed by him I decided to contribute to Gandhiji’s movement.

“I propagated Gandhiji’s thoughts among the people of my town. I had got a chance to meet Gandhiji on Jan 29 (1948), just one day before his assassination. He patted my back for my work and motivated me to continue it. He said that I had taken his principles of non-violence to the great heights of the Himalayas,” said Bahuguna.

(Alkesh Sharma can be contacted at

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