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Water is a basic and essential perquisite to support any form of life in this universe. Approximately, 65% of a human body is water by weight. Water is both a renewable and finite resource, and one of the most misused resources. Mismanagement of water has led to grave water scarcity at many places around the globe. The Composite Water Management Index[CWMI] report released by Indian governments’ policy think tank, National Institute for Transforming India[NITI Aayog] in August 2019 states that water scarcity in India is affecting nearly 600 million people in India. The quantity of water available in India per capita is highly disproportionate as India is a home to nearly 17.7% of the world population but has only about 4% of the global fresh water. Water Scarcity in India is a serious issue as a considerable portion of the economy comes from the agriculture & farming sector employing about 44% of the country’s population and agriculture solely accounting for 80% of the country’s water requirements.
As a report of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration[NASA] released on July 27, 2019, nearly 65% of India’s reservoirs are running dry. India is highly dependent on the monsoons for replenishing its reservoirs and disruptions caused in monsoons patterns by climate change is a major cause of water shortages which has worsened the crisis in the last few years. In recent years, many cities across India have been hit by acute water shortages. One of the most famous examples is when the metropolitan city of Chennai ran out of ground water in 2019 and thousands of water tankers were employed to bring water to the city from other regions. A report by NITI Aayog states that 21 major Indian cities like National Capital of Delhi, Hyderabad and Bengaluru will completely run out of water in the year 2020 and nearly 200 thousand people lose their lives in the country each year due to lack of access to clean and safe drinking water. Some of the main contributors to this dramatic shortage in fresh water availability are-:
- Lack of essential infrastructure: India severely lacks infrastructure to replenish its reservoirs and treat sewage. As a result, untreated sewage ends up in rivers and the reservoirs are drying up at a very fast pace. Also, India doesn’t have many facilities to sanitize wastewater and reuse it.
- Unchecked water pollution: Approximately 80% of the country’s waste water ends up untreated in rivers, which not only pollutes the rivers but the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal too. In spite of policies like the Ganga Action Plan, Ganga is still one of the most severely polluted rivers in India. A large proportion of waste discharged into rivers consists of highly carcinogenic chemicals from factories and heavy metals.
- Wastage of water: As per the Central Water Commission, India is able to utilize just 8% of its annual rainfall to replenish its reservoirs. Even after the adverse effects of climate change on monsoons, India receives abundant rain to meet the requirement if it is managed properly. Due to unplanned urbanization and inefficient implementation of city planning guidelines, a lot of elements of nature, like ponds, which maintained the water level in the reservoirs are declining in number.
- Absence of strictly enforced & efficient government policies: There are almost no long-term water management plans implemented by the government. As a result of this, many of the country’s rivers and reservoirs end drying up. Also, a 32% drop was recorded in 91 major reservoirs of the country. Many industries still discharge their waste in rivers in spite the government policies restricting it because of lack of enforcement and prosecution. Some of the leading reasons behind government policies failing are lack of technical knowledge and misplaced priorities.
- Mismanagement by the government: India extracted about 251 billion cubic meters of water in the year 2010, making it the world’s largest user of groundwater. One of the biggest causes of the 2019 Chennai water scarcity was unplanned construction and mismanagement of resources which lead to the 4 reservoirs supplying water to the city drying up. As per a report by the Central Ground Water Board, over extraction of groundwater between the years 2007 and 2017 has caused the groundwater level to decrease by a whopping 61%.
A CNN report from July 4, 2019 stated that experts believe that India has just five years left before the water crisis becomes irreversible. As a response, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation of a new ministry with the name Jal Shakti Ministry to publish the policy guidelines for usage of water, regulate and supervise water related projects, and establish synergy between multiple involved parties. In recent times, many Non Governmental Organizations have come forward along with the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund[UNICEF] to support the government in its mission. Some of the ways by which the NGOs are helping is by spreading social awareness and establishing projects to bring up the falling groundwater levels. Recently, UNICEF, along with some NGOs developed 1435 hectare water harvesting projects in the rural area of Palve near Ahmednagar. Some of the ways by which the government can stop the situation from worsening is by establishing large-scale projects for rainwater harvesting and helping farmers adopt new & efficient irrigation techniques. India has a 7516.6 KM long coastline, therefore a large number of desalination plants can be established efficiently. With modern technologies, desalination of seawater consumes as low as 1.5 Kw/m3 and cost of desalinating water has reached approximately 0.0008 USD per liter. At large scale, nuclear- powered desalination might be much more economical. Countries like Kuwait meet almost 100% of their water requirements through desalination. Most of India’s friendly countries have good desalination technologies, therefore, it can be a feasible option for India to adopt desalinization at a big scale.