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Not A Drop To Drink Anymore

By 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for a majority of the population and an eventual six per cent loss in the country’s GDP.

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Chennai had its 15 seconds of international fame two months back in June. Hollywood heart-throb and environmentalist Leonardo di Caprio reposted BBC News’ Instagram post showing a bunch of hapless individuals pouring over a well that’s gone ominously dry. The caption spoke of the acute water crisis the city is facing after four of its main reservoirs ran completely dry, driving the city to a standstill on multiple fronts – residents stood in line for hours to get water from government tanks, establishments shut down temporarily, and a city collectively prayed for the nature Gods to open up and show mercy. If you are thinking it’s just Chennai dealing with this water crisis, you are in for a rude shock. 

According to the Central Water Commission, two-thirds of India’s reservoirs are running below water levels. And as per NITI Aayog’s 2018 report on water resource management, over 600 million people face high to extreme water stress in the country. About three-fourth of the households do not have drinking water on their premises. Nearly 70 per cent of water is contaminated and almost two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water. It’s no surprise then that India ranks a dismal 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index. 

It does not end here. Almost 50 per cent of the Indian population resides in states who are low performers on the Water Index. These states are also our agricultural basket which puts food security at risk. By 2020, 21 of our major cities are expected to run out of groundwater, which makes up 40 per cent of our water supply, affecting almost 100 million people. By 2030, India’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for a majority of the population and an eventual ~ six per cent loss in the country’s GDP.

Now that’s a tsunami of impending devastation and despair!And unfortunately, it’s not just India’s issue; the whole world, from Cape Town to Michigan, from rural, sub-Saharan Africa to Asia’s bustling metropolises, there is a debilitating global water crisis everywhere.

Let me deep dive into the vortex for clarity. With global temperatures continuing to rise, rainfall is increasingly becoming a phenomenon of extremes: oscillating between long dry spells and dangerous floods, coupled with intense water shortages. Our ice caps are melting at an alarming rate and our natural sources of water are drying up. The World Health Organization estimates that half the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas by as early as 2025. England is slated to run out of water within the next 25 years. The US is already struggling to supply clean water to its general population, farmers, and ecosystem, as aquifers in many regions of the country steadily run dry. 

In Australia, the Murray-Darling river is also drying up. This year, as Australian summers saw the mercury hit mid-40s, all tributaries of the Murray-Darling – the Narran, the Namoi and the Barwon, dried up or were reduced to a series of green, stagnant weir pools. Even as we speak, heritage protected lakes and wetlands Down Under are emptying, jeopardising the breeding grounds of native birds and fish. 

I’m sure you’ve realised by now; we are clearly in deep waters! Ironic usage of the familiar idiom, of course. So, what does one do to turn the tide in our favour?

A water audit is the absolute first imperative. Only when we know each source of water in the country, the current levels of water consumption and the deficit areas, will we be able to ensure that water is not getting wasted. Building a robust water conservation infrastructure is another need of the hour: rainwater harvesting, water reuse and recycling, and waste-water treatment. Unfortunately, most countries are currently ill-equipped to ensure that this happens. 

Finding newer sources of water is another critical goal. For starters, we have to clean our oceans, rivers, and water bodies. Scientists of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) at Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu have devised a new system that can make seawater potable and safe to drink. Their pilot plant makes 6.3 million litres of water every day. We need this to happen at a national and global level if we are to combat the water crisis that’s staring us in the face. 

At such a juncture, the government’s Jal Shakti Ministry, founded earlier this year, has a lot of ground (water?) to cover. For the uninitiated, it is ‘the apex body for formulation and administration of rules and regulations relating to the development and regulation of the water resources in India’. The NITI Aayog has also sought to establish a ‘Composite Water Management Index’ for the country. This index aims to establish a public, national platform which will provide information on key water indicators across states.

This platform will also help monitor performance, improve transparency, and encourage competition among states, thereby boosting the country’s water achievements. Additionally, the data generated can also be used by researchers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers to enable broader ecosystem innovation for water in India, like the seawater innovation I mentioned earlier. 

At an individual level, each of us must be more mindful of our water usage. Earlier this year, Sunday Mid-day, inext and Radio City collaborated to launch #BucketSundays and #EkBaltiSunday campaigns to address the issue of increasing water scarcity in the country. Our four-week long #EkBaltiSunday campaign created awareness in four states and 12 cities and saved 1,07,58,400 litres of water! 

Lastly, from a climate destruction standpoint, if global warming isn’t contained and this planet keeps burning up, we should brace ourselves for apocalypse. Deforestation is rampant, whether it is Maharashtra’s very own Aarey or the destruction of the Amazon rainforest which is shockingly happening at a rate of one-and-a-half soccer fields every minute! We’ve also lost multiple urban lakes and inlets to encroachment and environmental degradation. According to a recent report by an Australian think tank, climate destruction is likely to threaten human existence by 2050.  

I guess it should hardly come as a surprise to any of us when the United Nations’ latest human rights report says “the world is fast approaching a ‘climate apartheid’ where only the wealthy can afford basic resources in the face of fatal droughts, famine, heatwaves, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer.” And considering water is a frontrunner in the list of  basic resources which will be priceless in future, it is even more crucial that we take corrective measures now. Because this Armageddon between man and nature currently has only one foreseeable outcome, and it is an outcome that doesn’t bode well for our planet.  

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Apurva Purohit

The author is President of the Jagran Group

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