The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI Aayog), recognising the looming national water crisis, has acknowledged that about 600 million Indians are already affected by it. It has also estimated that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020. And with the World Bank predicting that global warming could affect India’s food security, appropriate management of water resources is the focus and the need of the hour.
While India, overall, receives a reasonably good monsoon, the water scarcity problem is not really linked to the vagaries of the monsoon. Therefore, the problem needs to be looked at from several angles including haphazard and sub-optimal usage of water resources; ground water depletion, lack of rain-water harvesting, the effect of deforestation and the policy framework.
Serious efforts are underway to improve the situation. Water conservation has become the focus for the Government and the time has come for water conservation needs to become a mass people’s movement, duly aided by the Government.
Several factors have contributed to the water stress in India. Groundwater extraction is now eclipsing canal irrigation systems, highlighting the importance of better management of agricultural irrigation, which accounts for 90% of India’s freshwater withdrawals; the highest in the world.
The time is also ripe to review India’s cropping pattern of water-intensive crops. Rice, for example, consumes 3,500 litres of water for a kilogram of grain produced. Cropping patterns in water deficient areas need to change and drip and sprinkler irrigation systems should be supported. New agronomic practices also need to be adopted.
Water conservation and rainwater harvesting must be popularised significantly. Restoring water bodies like aquifers and catchment areas and an annual audit of the source and application of water as a resource will help enormously.
India, with 18% of the global population has a mere 4% of global water resources.
The central Government, to address the water related issues in a collaborative manner, has already constituted the Ministry of Jal Shakti merging all the water related Ministries.
Nal Se Jal is the Prime Minister’s flagship programme under the nation’s Jal Jivan Mission to provide drinking water to every household by 2024. There are also ideas to utilise MGNREGS funds (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) allocated for natural resource management on water resource management. Jal Shakti Abhiyan is a recent initiative to assess the water situation in deficient districts and create awareness and motivate people towards conserving water. The Government’s Swajal Scheme aims to provide clean drinking water to 115 rural districts whose management will be in the hands of local villagers supported by technicians.
CII has been working closely with Government and industry in water management. Its dedicated Centre of Excellence – the CII Triveni Water Institute helps industry manage and utilise water resources using tools like WATSCAN TM and promotes water use efficiency through a range of advisory services and project management.
A related water problem is the practice of open defecation practiced by roughly 522 million people, mostly in sub-urban areas. As per World Bank estimates, nearly 21% of communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices. Hence, water sanitation services forms the basis of India’s flagship scheme, the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which promotes, among other things, the construction and usage of toilets in rural areas.
The United Nations (UN) has already declared 2018-2028 as the Water Action Decade. Its efforts centre around drawing attention to the importance of freshwater and the sustainable management of water resources. World Toilet Day, celebrated annually on 19 November, aims to achieve sanitation for all and end open defecation.
Water is the elixir of life – concerted and collective efforts are required to help India utilize this fast-depleting resource appropriately, without which development would be severely hampered.