Buses from Tolichowki to high-tech city of Bangalore

On September 12th everything was suddenly different. The metropolis of Bangalore, otherwise known all over the world as the figurehead of Indian innovation, suddenly showed a terrifying face. Anger raged on the streets of the high-tech location, which otherwise produces images of an inventive and peaceful upswing. Rioters set cars and buses on fire, and two people died in the chaos. There was a curfew for three days, the employees of the IT companies in "Indian Silicon Valley", the biotechnology start-ups and the aerospace industry had to take a break. And it was only slowly that calm returned to India's third largest metropolis with its 11.5 million inhabitants.

The water distribution has been disputed since the colonial rulers regulated it. Cars are on fire now

The anger that turned into violence had sprung from a very existential need: the need for water. In the south of India there is fear that it will soon no longer be enough. The state of Karnataka with its capital Bangalore is in a dispute with its neighbor Tamil Nadu, both complain that they are each granted too little water from the Kaveri River. The river has its source in the mountain range of the Western Ghats and winds over 760 kilometers in a south-easterly direction through Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, where the river finally flows into a delta into the Bay of Bengal. The Kaveri is one of the great lifelines of India. Two large states hang on the drip of the river, in which as many people live as in Germany and France combined: 140 million Indians. However, they hardly make up more than a tenth of the total population.

Even under British colonial rule, rules were laid down how the water of the electricity was to be distributed. There have been arguments about this for a long time, but never before has it escalated as it did this year. The highest judges in India warned that no one should take the law into their own hands, but that is exactly what happened in the chaos in Bangalore. An angry mob set fire to cars and buses with license plates from Tamil Nadu. It was not long before vehicles from Karnataka were attacked in revenge in the neighboring state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of an "excruciating situation" and called for calm and moderation this week.

The uprising was triggered by a decision by the Indian Supreme Court. According to this, Karnataka is obliged to let 340,000 liters of water flow into Tamil Nadu every second. Far too much, protested the people on the upper reaches of the Kaveri. Far too little, complained the people on its lower reaches. In both states, farmers worry about their rice, which will not thrive without adequate irrigation. Is the crisis a foretaste of something that could now shake India more frequently and more violently - revolts or even wars over water shortages? At least one can see that the tensions are increasing. The sociologist Venni Krishna comes to the conclusion in a study that more than 200 conflicts in India can be traced back to environmental problems, 59 of which are rooted in inadequate water management. A columnist of the Hindustan Times therefore believes that the outbreaks of violence in southern India are actually just the beginning; he believes similar clashes in other parts of India are likely if they are not defused in time by the states.

The nerves of many Indian farmers are already on edge because they have suffered poor harvests from major periods of drought in recent years. This year the monsoon turned out to be better for the first time, which eased the situation in some places. "The rain varies greatly from region to region," says environmental expert Sunita Narain from the "Center for Science and Environment" in Delhi. "The catchment area of ​​the Kaveri has suffered little this time, so there is trouble."

The demand for water has increased in recent years. On the one hand, farmers are intensifying agriculture. "In Tamil Nadu, farmers used to harvest rice only once a year, now there are two harvests because of the irrigation options," says Narain. And in Karnataka, in addition to rice, they now also grow a lot of sugar cane, which requires a lot of water. In addition, the growing cities are using more river water than before, and Bangalore gets 80 percent of its needs from the kaveri. This means that the necessary buffer is now lacking to meet everyone's needs in the event of fluctuating rainfall.

Nevertheless, expert Narain thinks it is wrong to open up the simple equation according to which more and more people everywhere in India have less and less water available. The distribution is very uneven and often difficult to predict: Extreme weather situations such as drought, storms and floods are increasing, the water balance in the high mountains is changing because of the melting glaciers - scientists attribute all of these developments to climate change. "That makes the situation in India extremely complex, the dispute over the kaveri is not an isolated incident. Many areas are suffering from severe water stress," warns Narain. The groundwater levels have also fallen dramatically in many places.

"We need far better water management," says the environmental activist. "We need to find ways to be more careful with this resource and to reduce waste." The possibilities for saving water are far from exhausted. In Bangalore, the need for reform seems to be particularly great, as a study suggested in 2013: Your title: "Where is all this water going?" In it, author Krishna Raj evaluated the data from the municipal waterworks and drew an alarming picture: almost every second liter is lost due to mismanagement or leaking pipes. Of all the Indian cities, only Calcutta wastes more.

However, because the economy continues to grow, so too does consumption: In Bangalore alone, it is expected to soar by 71 percent in the next nine years. Which face the city will show in the future also depends on whether this need can be met.