The past year has seen severe problem of water scarcity in India affecting many parts of the country, the most severe being in Latur where trains had to deliver water to the parched region. The failure of monsoons, over dependence on rains for irrigation and poor water management have exacerbated the water problem in the country.
What we are seeing this year regarding the problem of water scarcity in India is unprecedented in many respects:
● Major perennial rivers like the Ganga, Godavari, Krishna and Netravati have dried up at several locations, which was unheard of earlier.
● Groundwater levels are at a record low. In many places hand pumps have dried up completely.
● The number of people impacted, the intensity of the impact are huge. This is only the fourth time in a century that there has been a back-to-back drought, but on all previous occasions groundwater, an insurance in times of drought, had provided relief. That is no longer an available option in several places.
● Our rivers are in a much worse situation today than ever in the past, due to all the ill treatment we have meted out to them, including multiple and often unnecessary, unjustified damming
● Regardless of improvements to drinking water, many other water sources are contaminated with both bio and chemical pollutants, and over 21% of the country’s diseases are water-related. Furthermore, only 33% of the country has access to traditional sanitation
● India may lack overall long-term availability of replenishable water resources. While India’s aquifers are currently associated with replenishing sources, the country is also a major grain producer with a great need for water to support the commodity. As with all countries with large agricultural output, excess water consumption for food production depletes the overall water table
● 54% of the country faces high to extremely high water stress
● The problem is likely to increase in the future as according to the Central Water Commission, water demand in 2025 will be almost double the demand in 2000. It will keep growing in the 25 years after that
Factors responsible for the problem of water scarcity in India:
● Inefficient use of water for agriculture. India is among the top growers of agricultural produce in the world and therefore the consumption of water for irrigation is amongst the highest. Traditional techniques of irrigation causes maximum water loss due to evaporation, drainage, percolation, water conveyance, and excess use of groundwater. As more areas come under traditional irrigation techniques, the stress for water available for other purposes will continue.
● Indiscriminate usage of ground water by digging borewells and using electricity to pump out groundwater is severely depleting the water resource. India earlier has borewells running into thousands which has now increased to approximately 20 million
● Growing water intensive crops like paddy in areas with water scarcity adds to the water woes
● Reduction in traditional water recharging areas. Rapid construction is ignoring traditional water bodies that have also acted as ground water recharging mechanism.
● Sewage and wastewater drainage into traditional water bodies.
● Release of chemicals and effluents into rivers, streams and ponds
● Lack of on-time de-silting operations in large water bodies that can enhance water storage capacity during monsoon.
● Lack of efficient water management and distribution of water between urban consumers, the agriculture sector and industry
● The problem has been compounded with increased concretization due to urban development that has choked ground water resources
● Traditional rainwater harvesting techniques like construction of Johads, Khadins etc are no longer prevalent due to presence of dams etc
● Most of the rainwater that we receive runs as surface waste and discharges into rivers and oceans
Solution to the problem of water scarcity in India:
● An ambitious $165 billion water-diversion scheme for drought-prone regions is in the works.
● A total of 15,000 kilometres of artificial waterways are to link no fewer than 37 rivers. The rigged system is set to relocate 174 cubic kilometres of water, ostensibly enough to quench the thirst of 100 metropolises the size of Mumbai
● Proper selection of crops in water scarce areas is necessary
● Traditional water conservation techniques such as rainwater harvesting should be encouraged. For instance, a village called Gendathur in Andhra Pradesh has 100% of its homes having rooftop rain harvesting
● The problem of urban water supply is due to poor and leaky distribution networks leading to large amounts of “unaccounted water”. This needs to be taken care of
● The central and state governments should empower local groups with knowledge, understanding, and real-time information on the status of groundwater so as to manage extraction in a cooperative way
● India needs to promote watershed development. The example of the state of Gujarat, as well as the efforts of Rajendra Singh and Anna Hazare, have shown that this approach is effective and profitable. Moreover, it can be undertaken at the local level all over the country and can be accomplished in a relatively short time
● The government should strengthen state pollution control boards to enforce effluent standards. The technical and human resources currently available to the boards are inadequate to effectively monitor activities, enforce regulations, and convict violators. In addition, adequate sewage treatment facilities must be constructed. Many cities treat only a part, and some no more than half, of the effluent. Cities need to charge a proper price for water so that local sewage work operators have the income and resources to sufficiently maintain treatment plants. If necessary, India should work with private firms to modernize urban water-distribution systems.