A blue jewel suspended alone and majestic in the black void – that is our Earth through the eyes of astronauts. On April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin, the first human being who actually traveled into the ‘black void’, watched our ‘blue jewel’ from an altitude of 300 kilometres, he was thrilled. "The earth is blue," he relayed excitedly to Ground Control. "How wonderful! It is amazing!" What makes this ‘blue beauty’ of our Milky Way so phenomenally incredible is an abundance of one simple compound – H2O.
Water, present profusely in its liquid form, is what makes Earth a scintillating celestial body. It is for this reason that millions of dollars have been spent by space scientists to spot even a tiniest trace of this precious element on other planets, most notably Mars. But on Earth, water pervades everywhere, either in solid, liquid or gaseous form. Nature thrives and beings breathe because of water. Indeed, it is the fuel of every human civilization.
Historically, all sprawling cities throughout mankind’s history had this common feature – they flourished along a body of water, on the bank of a river, ocean or a lake. Today, be it nuclear power plants, the semi-conductor industry, automobile manufacturing or event management, the element of water is the key. There is a clear correlation between access to safe water and the Gross Domestic Product per capita of various countries. Water has become so crucial for a nation’s progress that it is been referred to as the “next oil”. Many predict future wars may be fought over water, not oil.
Though 70% of earth’s surface is covered with this vital element, less than 1% of this huge resource consists of fresh water which is accessible for direct human use. With the rise in population, increasing industrialization and urbanization, the issue of the availability of safe water has indeed become serious.
UNESCO’s World Water Development Report (2003) indicates that in the next 20 years, the quantity of water available to everyone may decrease by 30%. As it is, 885 million people in the world today have no access to safe water, while 2.5 billion do not have adequate sanitation, including 1.2 billion who have no facilities at all.
It is for this reason that at any given time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from waterborne diseases, and 98% of water-related deaths occur in the developing world. In 2004, the UK charity, WaterAid reported that a child dies every 15 seconds due to easily preventable water-related diseases. Even though the issue may not be receiving its due attention, the world is heading towards a water crisis, and the need to provide safe and potable water to the poorest of the poor cannot be overemphasized.
Recognising this fact, in September 2000, 192 members of the United Nations and 23 international organisations, resolved that by 2015 they would halve the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation. This is one of the Millennium Development Goals of the UN.
Nine years after setting this goal, the situation has actually become grimmer. One in three people endures one form or another of water scarcity, according to new findings released by the ‘Comprehensive Assessment of Water Management in Agriculture’ at the World Water Week in Stockholm in 2006. The travesty of the situation is that it is not as if there is not sufficient water and therefore no solution to this impending catastrophe. "There is enough water for everyone" says the 2006 United Nations report, and then adds, "Water insufficiency is often due to mismanagement, corruption, lack of appropriate institutions, bureaucratic inertia and a shortage of investment in both human capacity and physical infrastructure".
Acknowledging the seriousness of the situation is the first step towards solving this crisis. But how does one overcome all these man-made hurdles in the present scenario where policies are driven by short-term economic and political interests, competition and self-centeredness? Is it practical, or even possible? In this context that how one individual’s effort has quenched the thirst of over 10 million distressed people becomes extremely significant. More importantly, how these mammoth projects have been executed has stunned even the United Nations. Just imagine laying 2500 kilometres of pipes through hilly terrain, building 324 overhead and ground level reservoirs at the cost of US $ 70 million to bring relief to one hundred thousand people in 731 villages. This is the story of only the first phase of the Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Project for the Anantapur District. And what was the timeline for this project? Just 9 months! This was just the beginning.
Soon after the completion of the Anantapur Project in November 1995, Bhagavan Baba directed the Sri Sathya Sai Central Trust to extend this supply of safe water to the districts of Medak and Mahaboobnagar too, covering 220 villages, thereby benefiting another one million people at an additional cost of US $ 14 million. The enormity, efficiency and extent of Bhagavan Baba’s water projects caught the attention of national and international organisations. In 1999, the Department of Posts, of the Government of India, released a special stamp in appreciation of this colossal work, and the Third World Water Forum held in Kyoto, Japan, in March 2003 invited a presentation on this unique project.
Even as the world was still debating in disbelief about the implementation of this massive scheme in the absolutely dry regions of Andhra Pradesh, Baba went ahead and shocked the world with the announcement of another major Water Supply Project, this time, for the city of Chennai in Tamil Nadu. The Sri Sathya Sai Ganga Canal came into being at a cost of US $ 60 million in one year, and a century old predicament that plagued the city of Chennai finally found a permanent solution. The joy and overwhelming emotion of thousands of citizens of Chennai who had gathered in Puttaparthi in December 2004 to offer their gratitude to Bhagavan Baba was simply overwhelming. Later, in the same month, while conversing with the staff of the Super Specialty Hospital in Puttaparthi, Bhagavan Baba casually shared His resolve to supply much-needed drinking water to the forgotten tribals and villagers of the neglected East and West Godavari districts in the Andhra heartland.
As in all the previous projects, even now nobody had come to Baba seeking His help. But Pure Love that He is, He Himself reached out to the suffering of the neglected and downtrodden. Nobody had ever cared for the tribals living in the hills of this region; the majority of society did not even know about their existence - except of course Bhagavan Baba. He knew how these innocent folk still lived by hunting, collecting forest produce and farming a little; even the idea of hospitals, schools, water tanks, etc. were totally alien to them. The irony of the whole situation was that the mighty river Godavari flowed just 10-12 kilometres away from where they lived, yet, these tribals died from water scarcity and water-borne diseases.
The ocean of Purest Love Bhagavan Baba resolved to transform this situation in a trice and what a tremendous change this region has seen! When you read the cover story “The Copious Stream of Pure Love” you will know why Swami always says that “For Pure Love, Nothing is Impossible.” In fact, Swami did not stop with providing just safe drinking water, He inspired the Sai youth to embark on the novel ‘Sri Sathya Sai Village Integrated Programme’ to nurture every family unit in these villages towards holistic self-sustenance. How was this plan implemented? Catch a glimpse of this holy saga of Sai Love in the Part-2 of the current cover story.
What is considered impractical transforms into an incredible endeavour of Love, when Bhagavan Baba wills it. Some say that it is because Baba has the financial resources that He is able to accomplish these projects. Few know that Swami actually took loans to complete these endeavours. Besides, Baba often says, “There is never a dearth of resources to carry out welfare schemes. What is lacking is the impulse to undertake such activities.” One estimate points out that a mere one-third of the amount which was spent in the 1991 Gulf War, could have solved all the problems of hunger, sanitation and water of the entire world! If only we were committed to peace and welfare as we are to conflicts and war!
What we need today is a heart that functions like a heart, one that loves to accommodate and embrace, to give and forgive, to reach out and relish in making others’ lives shine, just as Bhagavan Baba has exemplified for scores of decades now.
Let our hearts overflow with this Pure Love for everybody and everything in His creation.