Every year 200,000 Indians die because they do not have access to clean water. People die from dehydration or disease caused by poor water quality.
Farmers who couldn’t water their crops are taking their own lives. Inadequate water supply affects health and the economy, and food security.
The usage of groundwater is increasing, emptying the sources. The Indian government is not taking adequate measures to save water resources.
If this continues, by 2030, almost 60% of India’s aquifers, and with them, 25% of the country’s agricultural production, will be in critical condition.
It will have the most adverse influence on the state of employment of the population.
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India is home to 18% of the world’s population but has only 4% of the world’s drinking water. Drinking water shortages are becoming increasingly acute worldwide, but especially in India.
India’s per capita water availability in 1951-2001 decreased from 5,177 liters to 1,820 liters per year and is expected to reduce to 1,140 liters per person by 2050.
In recent years, the rapid development of mining industries in various regions of India contaminated the drinking water consumed by the population.
Massive deforestation and environmental degradation aggravate the water crisis. India’s rivers are getting too shallow, not holding enough water to sustain the demands of many sectors.
In addition, China built dams in Tibet, diverting and using much of the water to India and Southeast Asia.
Therefore, most Indian farmers depend on groundwater for their agricultural activities and domestic purposes. But the overuse of aquifers by irrigated agriculture diminishes water supplies.
According to one of the reports published in the Economic Times (ET), about 50 years ago, farmers obtained water from wells dug at a depth of 30 to 40 feet in northern Gujarat.
Now the tube wells are going up to 1,300 feet. It isn’t easy to extract water, as there is not enough recharge of the aquifers. Therefore, most rural India is under water stress.
Over the past 25 years, it looked as if India could finally reduce poverty and become a significant world power. India is recognized as an emerging economy and a member of the BRICS.
The economist Richard Bruce from the University of California considered India would leave the Third World for the First World during the 21st century.
However, the dream of progress is going down the drain. Among other reasons are the water crisis and the worsening of environmental problems.
India is an emerging power that is sinking. The economic crisis leaves many young people without jobs and alternatives for a decent life.
In India, about 60 percent of the inhabitants are employed in agriculture. This industry consumes 80 percent of all available water.
As India is one of the leading agricultural producers globally, water consumption for these purposes is one of the highest.
Drought and irrigation are to blame for this crisis. Excessive demand, combined with poor governance of water resources, unpredictable weather conditions, and general climate change, have led to a deplorable state of affairs.
The circumstances in urban areas are no longer healthy. There is insufficient infrastructure to deliver piped water to every home, and urban growth continues.
So the problem is only gaining momentum. So far, people rely on the help of the authorities – on water tanks, to which long queues line up.
A government think tank has prepared a forecast on water problems in India. And the data in it is not comforting at all.
In 2018, a shortage of drinking water had already affected 600,000 people. In 24 of the 29 states, the situation only gets worse.
By 2030, demand will be double the available resources – 40 percent of the country’s population will not have access to water.
Due to problems with water supply, India’s GDP will shrink by at least 6 percent. The unfavorable ecological and economic situation can increase migration from the country.
India’s closest neighbor, where everything is fine with rivers and arable land, is Pakistan. There is enough water in the Islamic republic.
Already more than two million Indians live there. More Indian citizens are left only for the United Arab Emirates.
The Indian authorities need to improve water management to avoid permanent depletion of water resources.
Rational use of resources will help, but it is unlikely that it will be possible to water the entire country and provide a stable water supply for irrigating agricultural lands.
Again, climatic conditions affect the amount of water in India. No one can make it rain more often. An option will help construct complexes for industrial desalination of seawater.
The public and private sectors can desalinate water using membranes that do not allow microscopic salt crystals to pass through or by thermal action.
In this case, the water is evaporated: the salt crystallizes, and the steam condensate is already fresh.
Regardless of the method of desalination, at the last stage, the mineral balance of the water is restored. Industrial desalination of water is sometimes called atomic.
The desalination plant uses steam and electricity in its production. Due to the high energy demand, seawater desalination plants are integrated with power plants, including nuclear ones.
For many countries, desalination is practically the only way to compensate for the freshwater shortage; for example, desalination plants in the United Arab Emirates.
Reasons for water scarcity in India
The main reasons for India to be suffering from the water crisis are as follows:
1. Global Warming and Climate Change
The global environmental crisis affects India and the entire world. Global warming has threatened the Himalayan glaciers the most.
Himalayan glaciers, covering approximately 1,900 km, spanning eight countries, are the primary source of drinking water, hydroelectric power, and irrigation for about 1.5 billion people worldwide.
Glaciers are depleting at an alarming rate, reducing water flow in Indian rivers like the Ganges and Brahmaputra.
2. Population growth and increase in urbanization
Population analysts indicate that by 2050, about 60% of Indians will live in urban areas, where there is an ever-widening gap between freshwater supply and demand.
The growing demand for domestic water use in urban centers puts immense pressure on dwindling resources.
Agriculture is the main livelihood of a large part of the Indian population. Agriculture consumes approximately 50% of available water, which leads to scarcity with population increase.
It is a global problem; it is estimated that by 2050, world agriculture will demand twice the amount of water used to feed the world.
4. Power Generation
With rapid economic growth and rising per capita energy consumption, the electricity demand is constantly growing.
The energy sector, especially hydrothermal plants, demands enormous amounts of water. Much of this energy is consumed by cities, leaving nearly 40% of rural households deprived of power.
Several industries consume vast amounts of water. The constant increase in demand for water in the industry is also threatening surface water levels.
6. Water privatization
Water privatization will become a dominant cause of conflict in most South Asian nations, especially India.
Privatization causes the transfer of ownership of water resources from the public sector to the private sector.
In just a decade, the Indian government commissioned more than 300 projects with private sector participation.
However, they increased tariffs, a drop in water quality, lack of accountability to consumers, reduced local controls and public rights, unemployment, and impact on the poorest.
After globalization, many multinational companies compete for access to India’s most incredible water resources, causing water levels to drop in many parts of the country.
7. Cross Border and Internal Conflicts
India has had cross-border conflicts over river waters with neighboring countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.
The cross-border conflict between India and Bangladesh over the Ganges is a case. Several diplomatic efforts are being made to resolve these transnational issues about water sharing.
In India, each state has considerable freedom to decide water-related issues, and most interstate rivers have become a matter of conflict in recent decades.
The water of the Kaveri River between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and the Baglihar hydroelectric project between Jammu and Kashmir are two examples of interstate water conflicts.
While numerous solutions are being offered to the growing water crisis in India, some require huge investments and much research. However, here are some possible and realistic solutions:
1. Rainwater harvesting
India has good rainfall levels, and with better rainwater management, the government can effectively manage the crisis.
The government should urgently consider rainwater harvesting, rainwater accumulation, and storage.
Rainwater can be utilized for irrigation and even drinking water with the proper treatment. An immediate benefit would be a groundwater recharge, which would help with falling water levels.
2. Effluent reuse
People can reuse the recycled water in various landscaping, irrigation, and underground aquifer recharge.
Treating water for reuse is an essential step towards conservation. In some countries, water recycling is becoming commonplace. There is a lot of material written on the subject and implemented, even in India.
Recycled water is a viable water source, especially suitable for agriculture as various nutrients can be recovered and produced.
3. Renovation of wells and ponds
Ponds, step-wells, and wells are dry or have low water levels, which are out of reach for humans, animals, and birds.
The government should focus on its restoration with the cooperation of the private sector.
These sectors should form collective drinking water schemes in rural areas, including 35-40 villages, by making dams on rivers.
Efforts made to solve the water crisis
The Indian government is aware of the water crisis it is facing; therefore, the government has taken some measures to solve the water crisis, such as:
1. National Water Policy, 1987
A National Water Policy was first adopted in 1987. Under this policy, the members ran various water conservation schemes with equitable exploitation and equitable distribution of water sources.
2. National Water Policy, 2002
Traditional water conservation and demand management methods were accepted as fundamental elements in this policy.
The policy coordinated environmental aspects of water through adequate institutional management, its quantity, and quality aspects.
In the National Water Policy, 2002, emphasis was also laid on setting up the River Basin Organization to settle other river water and land disputes.
3. National Water Board
Under the chairmanship of the Ministry of Water Resources Secretary, the Indian government constituted the National Water Board in September 1990.
It reviews the National Water Policy implementation progress and informs it from time to time to the National Water Resources Council.
4. Advisory Council on Artificial Recharge of Ground Water
In 2006, the government constituted an advisory council on artificial recharge of groundwater under the chairmanship of the Minister of Water Resources.
The council’s main task is to popularize the concept of artificial groundwater recharge among all the stakeholders.
5. Mission Clean Ganga
The Indian government established the National Ganga River Basin Authority in 2009 to save the river Ganga.
Its first meeting decided to start an ambitious project named ‘Mission Clean Ganga’ to save the river Ganga from pollution.
The sole purpose of this mission is to treat sewage water and prevent industrial waste from mixing in Ganga so that the nation can avoid a water crisis soon.
6. Water Harvesting and Augmentation Project
The government of Uttar Pradesh began this project to solve the problem of the water crisis.
Under this project, lakes and ponds will be developed as the primary means of irrigation in the villages. Fundraising is underway for this project.
India isn’t the only nation that is going through a water crisis. Most of the developed countries are also going through the same problem. A united global effort is needed to solve this issue.
(Last Updated on February 21, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)