Water Crisis: A Complete Picture

Multiple incidences of water shortage coupled with chronic water stress observed in different parts of India have raised alarms about the impending water crisis.

Recently in News:
• The NITI Aayog Report on Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) said India is facing its worst water crisis in the history.
• CWMI found that nearly 600 million Indians faced high to extreme water stress.
• As per an estimate by The Asian Development Bank, India will have a water deficit of 50% by 2030.
• Urban Water Crisis: Earlier, Shimla faced a water crisis problem of gigantic proportion during summer of 2018 and Bengaluru’s looming water crisis indicates that it will become unlivable by 2025.
• Groundwater Depletion: The National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Centre and state governments to submit a comprehensive plan for restoration of groundwater and check erosion of the water table on an urgent basis.
• Global Water Crisis: Further, according to World Bank Report, many large cities are facing severe acute crisis namely, Beijing, Karachi, Istanbul, Mexico City, Kabul etc.

Now, let us briefly discuss the issue of water scarcity, the reasons behind it, the challenges it poses and what all solution could be offered to address the issue.

What is Water Scarcity?
• It is a lack of fresh water resources to meet water demand.
• According to World Economic Forum (2015), it is the largest global risk in terms of potential impact over the next decade.

Water Scarcity can result from Two Mechanisms:
• Physical water scarcity results from inadequate natural water resources to supply a region’s demand,
• Economic water scarcity results from poor management of the available water resources.

Main Reasons for Water Shortages:
• Agriculture Practices:
• Input Intensive: According to Economic Survey 2016-2017, Indian agriculture has become cereal-centric and as a result, input-intensive, consuming generous amounts of land, water, and fertilizers along with damaging soil profile.
• Export of Water Intensive Crops: Indian also exports its agricultural products which are grown using water intensive techniques. For Example, in 2010, India exported about 25 cu km of water embedded in its agricultural exports.
• Inefficient Irrigation Practices: Brazil and China use approximately 60% of their renewable fresh water resources for agriculture, whereas India uses a little over 90%, utilizing 3 times more water to produce a unit of same food crop.

• Agro Industries: have also become users of groundwater on large scale like in plachimada (Kerala) Coca Cola drew around 510,000 litres of water each day from boreholes and open wells resulting into over exploitation of groundwater resources.
• Groundwater Exploitation:
• According to World Bank report, India is the largest user of groundwater in the world accounting for about 25% of the total global groundwater abstraction.
• Almost 70-80 percent of the population of is dependent on groundwater for drinking and agricultural irrigation due to lack of effective water supply.
• Changing Land Use patterns and Deforestation:
• Main causes of unsustainable land use patterns are urban sprawling phenomenon, industrialization, negligence towards green projects and large-scale development in river plains.
• According to Indian government, over 15,000 trees were cut in the national capital for undertaking various developmental and construction activities in the last three financial years.
Urbanization: With ever increasing urbanization and industrialization, water stress is also becoming perennial.

• The Union Ministry of Water Resources has estimated the country’s current water requirements to be around 1100 billion cubic metres (BCM) per year, which is estimated to be around 1200 BCM in 2025 and 1447 BCM in 2050, which will outstrip the availability of 1,137 BCM.

• Climate Change:
•It is leading to melting glaciers, erratic and unpredictable weather conditions, changing rainfall patterns, and increasing temperatures resulting into large scale scarcity of fresh water resources in the country.
According to IPCC report, the receding of glaciers has accelerated with global warming. For instance, the Gangotri glacier is receding at 20-23 miles per year.
It is estimated that Mt. Kilimajaro’s retreating Northern Glaciers will disappear by 2030.
• Water Scarcity in Mountainous Regions: In summers of 2018, Shimla faced a huge water crisis with the drying up of Springs and Lakes. The main reasons are:
• High Tourist Footfall: up to 25,000-30,000 tourists visit Shimla every day leading to high demand to water.
• Climate Change: In 2018, Shimla witnessed 80% deficiency of rainfall.
• Building Plan and Urbanization at the cost of Environment: Large scale deforestation has degraded the regions capacity to hold water.
• Mismanagement of Water resources: There are leakages in the water supply system of the city and almost half of the water leaks through pipes.
These reasons are also valid for other areas of Himalayan mountain region such as Dehradun, Nainital, etc.
• Poor storage: India receives an average annual rainfall of 1170 mm but due to poor storage infrastructure, it store only 6% of rainwater as against 250% in developed nations.

• Water contamination: It occurs because of sewage and wastewater drainage, and release of chemicals and effluents into rivers.
• A Water Aid report in 2016 ranked India among the worst countries in the world for the number of people without safe water.

Impact of Water Scarcity:
• Declining Per capita water availability: According to Central Water Commission (CWC), the per capita water availability has decreased from 2,309 cu m in 1991 to 1,545 cu m in 2011 and is expected to decline further.
• Food Insecurity: Water crisis poses a serious food insecurity issue at large.
• Inter-State Water Disputes:
•Water Shortage leads to such disputes lke Cauvery, Godavari, Narmada, etc. These disputes result into
intense regionalism undermining principles of cooperative federalism in India.
•Recently, the Supreme Court gave a verdict in Karnataka’s favor in Cauvery river water sharing dispute with Tamil Nadu. The Court acknowledged Bengaluru’s need of water and held that drinking water should be given “first priority.”
• International Water Disputes:
Non-consensus over Indo-Bangladesh Teesta water dispute compromises the long-term interest of citizens in both the nations.
Further, China’s South to North Water Diversion Project may have serious adverse impact on India’s North Eastern Region.
• Impact on Health: The World Bank estimates that 21 percent of communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices.
• Impact on Biodiversity: Water scarcity and deforestation are intertwined with each other. It severely impacts habitat of many flora and fauna leading to their extinction.
• Impact on women: As primary stakeholders in water resource management, Indian women have always borne the brunt of water shortages. There is alarming impact of the water crisis on women’s health, both mental and physical.
• Effects of Groundwater Depletion:
Large water bodies will become more-shallow and water table will go down further.
Dangerous sinkholes due to depleted aquifers.
• Failure in meeting India’s Global Commitments: India is committed to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all under goal 6 of sustainable development goals. With the current rate of depletion, it will become near impossible to achieve that goal.

Government Policies and Programmes:
• National Water Policy 2012: The stringent implementation of National Water Policy is the need of the hour. Key highlights of the policy are:
• Ensure access to a minimum quantity of potable water for essential health and hygiene to all.
• To curtail subsidy to agricultural electricity users.
• Setting up of Water Regulatory Authority.
• To keep aside a portion of the river flow to meet the ecological needs and to ensure natural flow regime.
• To give statutory powers to Water Users Associations to maintain the distribution system.
• To support a National Water Framework Law.
• Atal Bhujal Yojana: It was introduced in 2016-17 Union Budget for a period of 5 years with a corpus of Rs.6000 crore, shared by Central government and World Bank on 50:50 basis.
Objective: The main objective is to boost groundwater and create sufficient water storage for agricultural purposes.
Priority Areas: The priority areas identified area Gujarat, Haryana, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh representing 25% of the total number of over-exploited, critical and semi-critical blocks in terms of Ground Water.
• Community Participation: By forming Water User Associations, water budgeting, preparation and implementation of Gram-Panchayat wise water security plans with bottom up planning, and
• It seeks to renew Surface Water Bodies: and recharge Groundwater sources.
National River Linking Project: Under National Perspective Plan, this project should be seriously implemented. This will address issue of uneven distribution of water in river basins.

• National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP): It aims at providing every person in rural India with adequate safe water for drinking, cooking and other domestic basic needs on a sustainable basis.

• Polluter Pay Principle: This principle should be imposed to prevent industrial polluters as this is not envisaged under National Water Policy.

• Specific Scheme for Mountainous Regions:

• National Programme on Regeneration of Springs (NPRS): The programme will entail several short, medium and long-term actions through 8 step methodology.

• International Effort for Effective Water Management:
Water Scarce Cities Initiative: The initiative by World Bank seeks to promote an integrated approach to managing water resources and service delivery in water-scarce cities as the basis for building resilience against climate change.
SDG: UN under its SDG goals commitment seeks clean water and sanitation for all by 2030.

Way Ahead:
Increasing Micro-irrigation Facilities: States producing highly water intensive crops such as Punjab, Maharashtra and other water-deficient states should adopt micro-irrigation systems.
• As conventional surface irrigation has 60-70% efficiency, sprinkler with drip irrigation has 80-90% efficiency.
Improving Cropping Pattern: Improper cropping patterns affect both crop productivity and irrigation efficiency as happened in western Uttar Pradesh and parts of Maharashtra due to Sugarcane production. Hence, cropping pattern should be as per agro-climatic zone of a region.
Nature-based Solutions (NBS): The UN World Water Development Report 2018 stresses NBS to sustainably and economically manage water resources.

• Restoring forests, grasslands and natural wetlands, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, creating buffers of vegetation along water courses are examples of NBS that help the management of water availability and quality.
• Rainwater harvesting: Both in urban and rural areas, digging of rainwater harvesting pits must be made mandatory for all types of buildings.
• The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has set up a Rain Water Harvesting Helpdesk in the Indian Institute of Science Campus and a Rain Water Harvesting Theme Park, the first of its kind in India, showcasing all techniques of water harvesting and conservation.
• Many Townships in Gurgaon, Haryana like Suncity and Malibu Towne, are working towards building ground water recharge systems by digging deep pits to store rain water.
• In Mountainous Regions, government must adopt springshed development approach alongside watershed development.
• The watershed concept only accounts for surface water movement over slopes, whereas movement of spring water (which is groundwater) is determined by underlying geology, and the nature and slope of such rocks underneath the surface. It helps in tapping water which travels outside watershed boundaries.
Prevent Water Pollution and contamination of groundwater, ensure proper treatment of domestic and industrial waste water. For example, Namami Gange Programme.
• Conscious efforts need to be made at the household level and by communities, institutions and local bodies to supplement the efforts of governments and non-governmental bodies in promoting water conservation.
• Dam Management: The dam management has to balance the three goals of providing sustained water supply for irrigation and other purposes, ensuring water for generating hydro power, and acting as effective barrier to floods.
• Holistic Policy Needed: Lastly, holistic policy guidelines are mandatory for taking actions pro-actively to avert irreversible groundwater depletion and emerging water crisis.
• In the same vein, recently, NGT has ordered states to submit comprehensive groundwater recharge and depletion mitigation plan by the end of September 2018.
• Recently, Times of India reported that groundwater level rate is dropping by 1.5 metres each year for Noida region due to unsustainable exploitation of ground water for construction activities.
• State agencies need to find critical zones where water has been depleting faster than other areas.
• Need to National Water Framework Law: To regulate both surface water resources and groundwater resources and help in attaining India’s vision for ‘water for all’.