Schools shut for 10 days, residents queuing up to collect water from tankers and tourism stalled. Shimla, designated as the queen of hills is crippled by the acute water scarcity. It echoes the “Day-Zero” horror of Cape Town, South Africa, the date when taps were declared to run dry earlier this year. The crisis in Shimla and Cape Town is symptomatic of a wider problem staring the world today. If water management and conservation is not pursued vigorously, the day is not too far in the future when there will be no usable water left.
Not a drop to drink?
According to the NITI Ayog report released on 15th June 2018, 2 lakh people in India die every year due to inadequate access to clean drinking water. The report said that 600 million Indians are facing high to extreme water shortage. It further adds that 21 major Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020 and the country will face an eventual loss of 6% GDP due to water shortage by 2030. The report cites that nearly 70 percent of the country's water is contaminated, which puts India at the 120th position among 122 countries in the water quality index.
Water crisis has been ranked above cyberattacks and natural disasters as among the global threat with greatest potential impact by the World Economic Forum. The reason being, fresh water reservoirs are rapidly disappearing because water on the surface is not being skillfully managed and ground water is extensively exploited.
The scarcity of water in India is largely an issue of wasteful and inefficient use rather than availability of water. About 55% of India’s total water supply comes from ground water. According to a 2012 World Bank report, India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. It uses an estimated 230 cubic km of groundwater per year - over a quarter of the global total.
Inequity in water availability has already proved to be fodder for many inter-state disputes. Unless proper water management strategies are put in place, these conflicts are likely to escalate.
Reasons for the deplorable situation?
This over exploitation of groundwater can be understood in two parts. First, Irrigation accounts for 80% of total water consumption in India of which 60% comes from underground water. The flood irrigation technique used by farmers for major Indian crops like maize, paddy and sugarcane leads to unrestricted extraction of underground water. This, coupled with the attitude that groundwater is part of the land giving unlimited entitlement to the land owner to extract it. The government subsidies to farmers on fertilizers and electricity has added to the callousness and has lead to the overuse of fertilizers and water, tampering with water and soil quality.
Second, for personal consumption about 80% of drinking water needs are sustained by groundwater. This overexploitation has lead to the depletion of water tables to dangerous levels. Unlike surface water reservoirs ground water aquifers takes centuries to recharge making them similar to non-renewable resource.
Water scarcity is compounded by the growth of water intensive industries such as extraction and mining, thermal power production etc.
Is there a solution ?
In the wake of increasing farmer distress, it would be cruel to withdraw the subsidies on agricultural equipments, fertilizers and electricity to save the wastage of water. That is why an alternative to flood irrigation system needs to be adopted. Of late the government has collaborated with Israel to promote the drip irrigation system. Drip system follows the motto of grow more with less resources. It utilizes a minimal amount of water and fertilizer, saving excess wastage. This equipment is sold to farmers at subsidized rates and it works well for all vegetable crops like pea, potato etc. including sugarcane crop. Though, so far only big and medium landowners with tube well connections have been able to afford it.
India lacks a legal framework to limit the extraction of groundwater. Since it is considered a public property, a commodity that comes with the land, the government is unable to act. Stringent legislative changes are necessary to penalize the extraction of ground water beyond a certain limit.
Scarcity of water is one part of the problem, deteriorating water quality is another. The flow of all Indian rivers is hampered and water quality reaching dangerous levels due to contamination from sewage, industrial discharge, pesticides etc.
Despite all claims of modernity in India, an appalling half a million children die due to Diarrhea every year. Between 2005 and 2015, India recorded the lowest decline in mortality rate of diarrheal diseases among the BRICS economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
We need to pursue the save water campaign vigorously and spread awareness about the imminent danger of taps running dry forever.
Initiatives at school and college level need to be encouraged. Students participation in the cause can make a huge difference to the cause. Vishwakarma University in collaboration with WILO Foundation, Germany has been doing its bit for the cause. A “Water Quality Centre of Excellence “ is established at the Vishwakarma University, PUNE campus with the help of grant from WILO Foundation, Germany. The objective of the centre is to promote the use of clean drinking water. The centre will work towards developing innovative water management technologies and provide water quality testing facility. The WILO Foundation has established an innovative Water ATM on the campus to allow students to have 24*7 free of cost access to clean drinking water.
Authored by Richa Singh, Content Writer, Investronaut