Representatives from 100 countries met in Stockholm, Sweden, for the World Water Week conference organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute. The deliberations of the week put the spotlight on water management, policy and innovation in India that is facing one of its major and most serious water crisis. To mark World Water Week, let’s look at some facts and statistics that highlight the extent of India’s water crisis.
One of the most strident voices pointing out the economic aspect of the water crisis is the government’s own NITI Aayog, which has said that India could lose 6% of GDP by 2050 because of a water crisis. Kerala, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi are low performers. Worryingly, these four states are among the top 10 contributors to India’s economy. Water crises can affect a country’s economy in various ways : by hitting agriculture, food output, stalling industrial growth and urbanisation among others. Around half India’s population is affected by ‘high to extreme’ water stress. This is an issue that threatens to stall the wheels of our economic progress.
Chennai has become the poster-city for urban water distress after four of its major reservoirs ran at empty or critically low levels following months of poor rainfall. A few days ago, the World Resources Index said that for cities like Bengaluru and Mumbai, the dreaded ‘Day Zero’ scenario, when taps will run completely dry, could be already here. The report added that insufficient progress on providing piped water is the biggest problem. A UK-based risk analytics firm’s Water Stress Index has named the extremely stressed cities in India. These include Chennai, Delhi, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Nashik, Jaipur, Indore and Ahmedabad.
In many ways, India’s water crisis is a groundwater crisis. India consumes about one-fourth of the globally available groundwater, more than the next two countries US and China combined. This dependence on groundwater is especially high in the farm belts of rural India. Overall, nearly 89% of the groundwater extracted in India goes towards irrigation. About 85% of rural India’s water needs and 62% of its irrigation needs are met with groundwater. And all this is taking a toll on our groundwater reserves, which have declined 61% in the decade from 2007-2017, according to the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB). Some of the ways proposed to deal with the crisis include levying a ‘groundwater usage fee’ and imposition of limits on groundwater use. Getting piped water into rural households is also important. Only 17% of rural houses in Kerala have piped water supply and 12% in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. In Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal, the figure is just 1%.
Huge amounts of water are used in agriculture and meat production—both, the water molecules contained in those products, as well as the water used to produce them. And when we export things like rice, cotton, sugar or meat, that water also leaves our country. These are known as virtual water exports. Most of the virtual water exports are accounted for by rice and cotton, which need thousands of litres of water to produce a single kilogram of product, and sugar and meat which are also highly water-intensive. The report called on India to relook its export priorities, especially since there is ample supply of rice, sugar and cotton in the international market, and prices are low. And also because in the light of the current water crisis, the last thing we should be doing is shipping out more of this precious resource.
Thanks to global warming and climate change, extreme rainfall events are becoming increasingly common in India as around the world. While low-to-moderate intensity rainfall days are on the decrease, heavy-to-very heavy rain days are increasing. Extreme rainfall is a challenge because it is generally associated with destruction—floods, landslides, damage to crops and infrastructure and increased erosion. For cities it means lost work-days and therefore, economic losses. While rainfall extremes are a different challenge to the ground and surface water problems India faces, it is another side of the same coin. Unchecked population growth and urbanisation, greenhouse emissions, severe exploitation of natural resources, and policy gaps are the common factors.
#ZebaWarsia – NMTV News