Q. Discuss the reasons for ever-increasing India’s water crisis. Suggest remedial measures for the same.
A recent NITI aayog report has said that India is facing its worst water crisis in history. This is predicted despite average annual rainfall in India is way more than the global average.
With nearly 50 percent of India grappling with drought-like conditions, the situation has been particularly grim this year in western and southern states that received below-average rainfall. According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report released by the Niti Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, and others) are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access for 100 million people.
However, The CWMI report also states that by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual six percent loss in the country’s GDP.
12 percent of India’s population is already living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario, thanks to excessive groundwater pumping, an inefficient and wasteful water management system and years of deficient rains. The reason for this follows:
- Skewed monsoon pattern – Though plentiful, Indian monsoon stays only for 4 months in a year, bringing 90% of rainfall within that time only and the remaining 8 months have to be managed on groundwater. Similarly, the majority of monsoon rain is limited to western ghats and northeast while central, south-east and north India receives below national average rainfall, which makes them dependent on groundwater and artificial reservoirs.
- Irrigation – Most of the irrigation done in India is flood irrigation which leads to a lot of water wastage.
- Improper cropping pattern – Many states have cropping patterns that don’t suit the water availability in the region e.g. Punjab, which is a low rainfall region, is a major paddy growing region and a major source of irrigation is canals and groundwater. This causes a significant decline in the water table.
- Political reasons – Many states free of hugely subsidized electricity to farmers for irrigation which makes them draw water indiscriminately. Any effort to change this practice is considered politically harmful.
- Psychological reasons – Water prices in India don’t reflect their real cost of supply and hence people don’t value it. Also, it is one of the reasons why the government’s marquee promise of providing piped water for every Indian by 2024 has caused a certain degree of alarm among water activists. Since water is not priced to contain demand, past experience shows that the reservoirs would only go dry quicker once piped water supply expands.
- Pollution – Discharge of harmful chemicals and human wastes into rivers has turned most rivers into drains and water they carry is unfit for domestic or agriculture use.
- Climate Change – Though not definite, but we are seeing strong signs of climate change and this has already led to drying up of many rivers during lean seasons. This problem is only going to increase in the future.
- There are issues of leakage losses, water pricing, and metering of water. Lack of proper maintenance of existing infrastructure causes further losses of almost 40 percent of piped water in urban areas.
- There is a clear disconnect between water, society, and the economy. Currently, we are interested in laying large networks, constructing huge storage dams, fetching water from 150 kilometers and above, which involves a huge carbon footprint.
To overcome is a looming crisis, some proactive and tough measures need to be taken which are as follows-
- Rainwater harvesting – We have to make full use of rainwater and water harvesting needs to be promoted or even made mandatory in large housing societies and commercial spaces. In one of the Mann Ki Baat radio addresses, Prime Minister said only 8% of rainwater gets saved in the country and more needs to be done. (Lowest in the world)
- Drip irrigation – A country like Israel which has very little rainfall, is net agriculture exporter mainly due to drip irrigation and satellite aided agriculture (to determine the water a field needs and when). India needs to adopt this on a war footing to reduce wastage. Also, drought and saline resistant seeds should be developed.
- Pricing – Electricity to farmers and water to households have to be priced appropriately to bring optimize their usage.
- Legal changes – Water is a state subject as per schedule VII of the constitution which makes any nationwide law very tough to implement. This needs to be changed and water needs to be brought in the concurrent list.
- River rejuvenation – Efforts need to be intensified to clean our rivers and prevent the harmful chemicals from entering them by banning polluting industries and setting up waste treatment plants to clean water before it is released into the river.
- Combining Traditional Knowledge with modern technology – Our history is replete with water conservation techniques in different regions. Such techniques need to be revived.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) states that an individual requires around 25 liters of water daily for meeting his/her basic hygiene and food needs. The rest is used for non-potable purposes like mopping and cleaning. This indicates that for most of the non-potable uses, a quality lower than drinking water is required. Thus, for economic efficiency and environmental sustainability, water must be treated and supplied according to usage. (Cost-effective as well)
Prime Minister, recently, has made water management a flagship mission, beginning with setting up the Jal Shakti ministry. There is a need for a paradigm shift. We urgently require a transition from this ‘supply-and-supply-more water’ provision to measures which lead towards improving water use efficiency, reducing leakages, recharging/restoring local water bodies as well as applying for higher tariffs and ownership by various stakeholders. Thus it will require a nationwide campaign to conserve water and treating every drop like gold or else we risk having out future generations struggling for each drop of water.