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“There is always a temptation for governments: see a problem and announce a quick fix.”

– Charles Kennedy

Editor’s Note, June 2019

There is no denying the fact that water is nowadays a significant aspect of a country’s economic growth engine. While India has performed exceedingly well on the economic front till now, its future growth may well be in danger due to our lack of proper planning and mismanagement of water resources. There is a big mismatch between our economic growth and water utilization.

While the water crisis impacts our ability to generate power, grow crops – it is also reducing companies’ ability to operate in the country. Due to lack of awareness about the cost-effective and sustainable water solutions, most of the companies in various manufacturing sectors are still using old and traditional methods of water conservation, reuse, and recycle. In 2018, 64 major international brands reported 84 water-related risks in India. This included low water quality, high water scarcity, and risks of water contamination.

Such findings reflect further in the residential water market as well – about three-fourths of households in India do not have drinking water in their premises. With 70% of water being contaminated, India is placed at 120th among 122 countries in Water Quality Index. Around 600 million people are currently facing high to extreme water stress. Only 30% of our population has drinking water piped into their dwellings. And if we talk about rural areas, this value goes further down to 20%.

Such has been the trend for a long time now. As per the Ministry of Water Resources, the average annual per capita water availability in India fell by 15% between 2001-2011. This figure may fall another 13% by 2025 and 15% again by 2050. Hence, in another 30 years, each household in our country will have only about 1.1 million liters of water/year, down from 1.8 million liters in 2011. As per global standards – a country suffers from water scarcity if water availability is below 1 million liters/capita/year.

According to a CWMI report, by 2030, India’s water demand could be twice the available supply, which means water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and a 6% loss in country’s GDP. The improper maintenance of our existing water infrastructure may cause further losses of 40% of piped water in urban areas.

Apart from these reports by reputed research organizations, sensational stories running about the looming water crisis in our metro cities and state capitals are flashing on our TV channels and social media feed almost every hour as we speak.

Chennai, for example, has faced a delayed monsoon this year. Tamil Nadu state is seeking a special package of Rs. 1,000 cr to address this water crisis. In Bengaluru city, Karnataka state government is planning a ban on the construction of new apartments to fight with the problem of water shortage. As per Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) 2019 Report by Niti Aayog, 21 big cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, etc) may reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, which will affect access to water for 100 million people.

India’s water crisis is not a new phenomenon. However, things have become worse this year. Lack of rains, in most of the regions, have brought this water crisis into the limelight.

While the ongoing TV debates and print media reports about these situations, mostly focused on metro cities and few drought-ridden rural areas, are grabbing the eyeballs and should worry all of us, they also take away our focus from a big culprit (if not the only one).

Any country’s water resource levels depend largely on the efficient use of its water for the agricultural, for the most part. India is an agriculture-based economy and figures for 2010 show (for which data is available) that 90% of India’s freshwater withdrawals were for agricultural use. This could be the main villain behind our water crisis.

India is the biggest user of groundwater in the world. Groundwater availability, which accounts for about 40% of India’s water supply, is getting reduced and about 70% of our water supply is contaminated. Droughts and erratic rainfalls have further led to a 61% fall in groundwater. As per Central Ground Water Board in India, of the 447 billion cubic meters of groundwater which is replenished each year, some 228 billion cubic meters is used for “agricultural irrigation”. Only 25 billion cubic meters is used for domestic, drinking and industrial use.

The Central Water Commission (CWC) has said that out of 91 major reservoirs in the country, 11 have zero percent storage, 59 reservoirs have storage lesser than 80% of its average. Delhi is among the top 3 states in terms of excessive groundwater exploitation for drinking, industry, and irrigation use. Rajasthan and Punjab are the other two states. Groundwater tables in Gujarat have been dropping at a rate close to 20m/decade since 1974.

We must change our cropping patterns. We should channel highly water-consuming crops away from arid regions to Indo-Gangetic plains. We must begin using advanced methods of water conservation for irrigation using the latest drip irrigation techniques, microprocessor-controlled fertigation, and even new crop varieties that consume less water.

The union government of India has also cleared its intention. Prime Minister Narendra Modi formed a new Jal Shakti (Water) ministry, aimed at tackling water issues with a holistic and integrated perspective on the subject. The new water minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat has announced an ambitious plan to provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024. Prime Minister Modi himself urged citizens to unite for conserving water and appealed to people to make a list of methods to conserve water and share the same on social media using the hashtag JanShakti4JalShakti.

Watershed Management could be an honest answer to many questions. In this concept, basin-like areas are created which collect rainfall water, store a part in the soil and drain the rest into streams and rivers. The 2009 Integrated Watershed Management Programme aimed to fight drought in India by holistically conserving water. The central government has now made it a part of the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana as its watershed development component. In the last 4 years, central funding to this program has drastically dropped. From Rs. 2,284 crore allocated in 2014-15, funds for watershed work reduced by 35% to Rs. 1,487 crore in the first year of the policy shift. Since 2016, the government has stopped even sanctioning the new watershed projects.

It is well-established that watershed projects need a minimum 10 years to start having a major impact. While the short-term populist measures taken by the government which are supported by celebrities with hashtags on social media could be appreciated, we cannot ignore the elephant in the room anymore. The problem of water crisis would only increase if our central and state governments do not begin working on the long-term measures as well. India’s rising population will only make this situation worse.

However, all is not yet lost. If we look at more numbers, India is still a water-surplus country – receiving enough annual rainfall to meet the need of its 1.2-billion population. India received 4,000 billion cubic meters of rain against the requirement of 3,000 billion cubic meters, as per CWC (Central Water Commission). The problem is that we captured only 8% of this, among the lowest in the world.

Therefore, if we focus on increasing rainwater harvesting systems, change our urban infrastructure to absorb more rainwater, increase the wetlands, and recycle-resue our wastewater, the situation could reverse slowly but surely.

In June issue, my first recommendation is the article on smart irrigation – how drones have helped the Maharashtra Krishna Valley Development Corporation to discover revenue leak of 400% where the state-owned enterprise had roped in Terra Drone India to carry out an aerial survey for crop measurement and assessment. The cover story section this month (based on CSR activities in the field of WASH) has stories from BASF, HCL, Voltas, VA Tech WABAG, and Grundfos which are quite interesting. In a recent and engaging interview with me, Archis Ambulkar – an internationally renowned environmental expert, talks about the current water challenges in world’s drought-affected areas – a timely and apt reminder for all of us as we see many of our cities moving toward the day-zero in terms of water shortage and eventual complete non-availability of water.

– Mayur Sharma
Editor, Smart Water & Waste World Magazine

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