India’s Worst Water Crisis
General Studies 2:
- Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
General Studies 3:
- Conservation, Environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
- Water Pollution, Wastewater management
In News: India is suffering from ‘the worst water crisis’ in its history with about 60 crore people facing high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water, NITI Aayog said in a report on Thursday. The report, titled ‘Composite Water Management Index’ further said the crisis is only going to get worse.
- 600 million people in India face high to extreme water stress in the country.
- About three-fourth of the households in the country do not have drinking water at their premise.
- With nearly 70% of water being contaminated, India is placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index.
- 75% of households do not have drinking water on premise.
- 84% rural households do not have piped water access.
‘Composite Water Management Index’:
This index is an attempt to budge States and UTs towards efficient and optimal utilization of water and recycling thereof with a sense of urgency. The Index and this associated report are expected to:
- Establish a clear baseline and benchmark for state-level performance on key water indicators
- Uncover and explain how states have progressed on water issues over time, including identifying high-performers and under-performers, thereby inculcating a culture of constructive competition among states
- Identify areas for deeper engagement and investment on the part of the states.
Major Issue: Data and centre-state and inter-state cooperation are some of the key levers that can help address the crisis. Data systems related to water in the country are limited in their coverage, robustness, and efficiency.
- Limited coverage: Detailed data is not available for several critical sectors such as for domestic and industrial use, for which data is only available at the aggregate level and lacks the level of detail required to inform policies and allocations.
- Unreliable data: The data that is available can often be of inferior quality, inconsistent, and unreliable due to the use of outdated methodologies in data collection. For example, estimates on groundwater are mostly based on observation data from 55,000 wells, while there are 12 million wells in the country.
- Limited coordination and sharing: Data in the water sectors exists in silos, with very little inter-state or centre-state sharing, thereby reducing efficiencies.
The Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) is a major step towards creating a culture of databased decision-making for water in India, which can encourage ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’ in the country’s water governance and management.
Water policy timeline in India (not exhaustive)
How will climate change hit supply?
While growth in urban population is leading to increased water demand, climate change will make supply more variable. In some places, it will lead to a reduction of availability. In future, one in six large cities is likely to be at the risk of water deficit.
Increased demand for urban water supply will put pressure on groundwater resources. We investigated urban groundwater stress by calculating the urban groundwater footprint of regional aquifers. Climate change and socio-economic factors like urbanisation will lead to an increasing urban groundwater footprint. Historically, many cities in less developed countries had systems that were inadequate to provide 24X7 water access to its people, a goal that will become even harder to reach in the future.
Can we avoid more Cape Towns – Need to make “every drop count”
- Expanding water supply
- Increasing storage
This will ensure that cities survive under drought. This can be done by
- Long-distance water transfers, but can also come from groundwater or desalination.
- When cities appropriate more water, they impact the freshwater ecosystem. Sometimes urban water usage is more than in agriculture. Society should make more efficient use of water. Putting in place an efficient piped supply system has to be top on the agenda of policymakers and planners.
- Steps must be taken to make farmers efficient in use of irrigation water. Water reuse is an option too.
- Both in urban and rural areas, digging of rainwater harvesting pits must be made mandatory for all types of buildings.
Nature-based solutions can address overall water scarcity through “supply-side management,” and are recognised as the main solution to achieving sustainable water for agriculture.
- Environmentally-friendly agricultural systems like those which use practices such as conservation tillage, crop diversification, legume intensification and biological pest control work as well as intensive, high-input systems.
- The environmental co-benefits of nature-based solutions to increasing sustainable agricultural production are substantial as there are decreased pressures on land conversion and reduced pollution, erosion and water requirements.
- Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment can also be a cost-effective, nature-based solution that provides effluent of adequate quality for several non-potable uses (irrigation) and additional benefits that include energy production.
- Watershed management is another nature-based solution that is seen not only as a complement to build or “grey” infrastructure but also one that could also spur local economic development, job creation, biodiversity protection and climate resilience.
Two areas that need urgent measures are
- Augmentation of watersheds that can store more good water, for use in agriculture and to serve habitations
- Strict pollution control enforcement:
- User-centric approach to water management, especially in agriculture
- Decentralisation of irrigation commands, offering higher financial flows to well-performing States through a National Irrigation Management Fund
- Steady urbanisation calls for a new management paradigm – augmenting sources of clean drinking water supply and treatment technologies that will encourage reuse.
The Way Forward:
- 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.
- Sustained measures should be taken to prevent pollution of water bodies, contamination of groundwater and ensure proper treatment of domestic and industrial waste water.
Reduce, reuse, and recycle must be the watchwords if we have to handover a liveable planet to the future generations.
Note: Water is a State subject
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Connecting the Dots:
- To solve the growing water crisis, the solution that is proposed and pushed by world bodies such as WTO and IMF through international agreements is privatisation of water. Do you think India should also privatise its water? Critically analyse.
- Many parts of the country are facing severe water crisis and drought conditions. There are many traditional water harvesting and conservation practices in various parts of India which can be employed locally to fight the ongoing crisis. Can you identify few such practices? Also mention the states where they are more prevalant.
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