Water Crisis in India

  • IASbaba
  • September 16, 2022
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  • United Nations World Water Development Report of 2022 has encapsulated global concern over the sharp rise in freshwater withdrawal from streams, lakes, aquifers and human-made reservoirs, impending water stress and water scarcity being experienced in different parts of the world.

Growing water stress – various reports:

  • In 2007, ‘Coping with water scarcity’ was the theme of World Water Day (observed on March 22).
  • The new Water Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) sounded a note of caution about this silent crisis of a global dimension, with millions of people being deprived of water to live and to sustain their livelihood.
  • A NITI Aayog report, ‘Composite Water Management Index’ (2018) has sounded a note of caution about the worst water crisis in the country, with more than 600 million people facing acute water shortages.

Water stress and water scarcity:

  • Water scarcity is a physical, objective reality that can be measured consistently across regions and over time.
  • “Water stress” refers to the ability, or lack thereof, to meet human and ecological demand for water.
  • Compared to scarcity, “water stress” is a more inclusive and broader concept.
  • India is experiencing a very significant water challenge, approximately 820 million people of India – living in twelve river basins across the country have per capita water availability close to or lower than 1000m3 – the official threshold for water scarcity as per the Falkenmark Index.
  • Falkenmark Indicator or Water Stress Index:
    • It defines water scarcity in terms of the total water resources that are available to the population of a region; measuring scarcity as the amount of renewable freshwater that is available for each person each year.

Types of water scarcity: Water scarcity is the lack of fresh water resources to meet the standard water demand. There are two types of water scarcity

Physical water scarcity is where there is not enough water to meet all demands, including that needed for ecosystems to function effectively.

  • Arid areas for example Central and West Asia, and North Africa often suffer from physical water scarcity.
  • Economic water scarcity is caused by a lack of investment in infrastructure or technology to draw water from rivers, aquifers, or other water sources, or insufficient human capacity to satisfy the demand for water.
    • Much of Sub-Saharan Africa has economic water scarcity.

Other issues of water scarcity:

  • The typical response of the areas where water shortage or scarcity is high includes transfer of water from the hinterlands/upper catchments or drawing it from stored surface water bodies or aquifers.
    • This triggers sectoral and regional competition; rural-urban transfer of water is one such issue of global concern.
  • Increasing trans-boundary transfer of water between rural and urban areas has been noted in many countries since the early 20th
    • A review paper published in 2019 reported that, globally, urban water infrastructure imports an estimated 500 billion liters of water per day across a combined distance of 27,000km. At least 12% of large cities in the world rely on inter-basin transfers.
  • A UN report on ‘Transboundary Waters Systems – Status and Trend’ (2016) linked this issue of water transfer with various Sustainable Development Goals proposed to be achieved during 2015 to 2030.
    • The report identified risks associated with water transfer in three categories of biophysical, socio-economic and governance. South Asia, including India, falls in the category of high biophysical and the highest socio-economic risks.

Urban water use:

  • According to Census 2011, the urban population in India accounted for 34% of total population.
    • It is estimated that the urban population component in India will cross the 40% mark by 2030 and the 50% mark by 2050 (World Urbanization Prospects, 2018).
  • Dependence on groundwater continues particularly in the peri-urban areas in almost all large cities that have switched to surface water sources.
    • While surface water transfer from rural to urban areas is visible and can be computed, the recharge areas of groundwater aquifers are spread over well beyond the city boundary or its periphery.
  • At present, the rural-urban transfer of water is a lose-lose situation in India as water is transported at the expense of rural areas and the agricultural sector; in cities, most of this water is in the form of grey water with little recovery or reuse, eventually contributing to water pollution.
  • Rural and urban areas use water from the same stock, i.e., the water resources of the country. Therefore, it is important to strive for a win-win situation.

The case of Ahmedabad

  • Ahmedabad is an interesting case in this context. More than 80% of water supply in this city used to be met from groundwater sources till the mid-1980s.
    • The depth to groundwater level reached 67 meters in confined aquifers. The city now depends on the Narmada canal for the bulk of its water supply.
    • The shift is from local groundwater to canal water receiving supply from an inter-State and inter-basin transfer of surface water.
  • Whatever be the source, surface or groundwater, cities largely depend on rural areas for raw water supply, which has the potential to ignite the rural-urban dispute.
    • Available studies covering Nagpur and Chennai indicate the imminent problem of rural-urban water disputes that the country is going to face in the not-so-distant future as water scarcity grows, which will be further exacerbated by climate change.

 Way forward:

  • A system perspective and catchment scale-based approach are necessary to link reallocation of water with wider discussions on development, infrastructure investment, fostering a rural-urban partnership and adopting an integrated approach in water management.
  • Institutional strengthening can offer entry points and provide opportunities to build flexibility into water resource allocation at a regional level, enabling adjustments in rapidly urbanizing regions.
  • Authorities must also simultaneously work to enhance waste water recycling and water recharge activities targeting aquifers and wells through rainwater harvesting.
  • In India’s 75th anniversary of Independence, it is time to examine the state of its water resources and ensure that the development process is not in jeopardy.

Source: The Hindu


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