India is one of the most water-challenged countries. The situation is getting worse by the day due to its depleting surface and groundwater resources. As per NITI Aayog, 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. Sustainable management of water resources has acquired critical importance and become among top priorities of ULBs
Water scarcity is a global issue which is exacerbated by growing water demand, pollution and climate change. It is predicted that by 2040, 33 countries are likely to face extreme water crisis out of which 15 are middle east countries, a major section of North America, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, India, China, Southern Africa, Australia and Spain, as per a report ‘Beneath the Surface: The State of World’s Water 2019 released on World Water Day this year.
Water crisis – India
According to the World Bank estimates, India draws around 250 cubic kilometres of groundwater per year, which is more than a fourth of the global total, this makes India the world’s largest user of groundwater. The 65th round of the National Sample Survey (NSS) showed that only 47 per cent of the urban households has individual water connections. As estimated, presently, around 40 to 50 per cent of the water is lost in the distribution system.
India Water Tool 2.0 (IWT 2.0), an online tool evaluating India’s water risks, brings forward a few trends: 54 per cent of India faces high to extremely high water stress (high water stress refers to usage of more than 40 per cent and extremely high to 80 per cent of the available surface water annually), nearly 600 million people are at higher risk of disruption in surface water supply. In particular, the Northwestern India is blanketed by the higher stress. Groundwater resources are also depleting, of the 4000 wells captured in the IWT 2.0
54 per cent dropped over the past seven years, with 16 per cent declining more than 3.2 feet on yearly basis.
The online tool also measures the quality of surface and groundwater as per Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) guidelines. Shockingly, out of 632 groundwater sources analysed only 59 were found above the standard limits. This implies that around 100 million people live in areas of poor water quality. The water in these areas was considered unsafe for drinking as it contains chlorine, fluoride, iron, arsenic, nitrate, and electrical conductivity more than the national standard.
Innovation in water management
There are several measures which can better the situation, such as rainwater harvesting to recharge groundwater, treating and reusing wastewater, reviving wetlands by creating farm ponds, individual and community-driven actions.
For example – Dhara Vikas programme launched by the state government in Sikkim consists of locals who every morning climb up hills and dig trenches. Trenches are on an average six feet wide and two to three feet deep. These trenches capture rainwater and recharge the groundwater resources in the area. As per locals, this has helped provide drinking water to over 80 per cent of the state’s households.
Residents’ Welfare Association of JR Nagar in Visakhapatnam along with the residents has taken an exemplary step for water conservation. Complying with the directions from the municipality, the residents dug water recharge pits to capture rainwater.
There is an urgent need for government agencies, industries, civil society organisations, and people to assess the water risks and come out with innovative solutions. This also becomes important because most of the municipalities are now planning to provide uninterrupted 24×7 water supply to their citizens. But if the water is not managed well, such plans will remain in pipeline.