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Solving Water Woes

Unless addressed immediately, India will soon become severely waterstressed with the national supply falling to 40 to 50 per cent of demand by 2030

Photo Credit : PTI


According to a recent study by 2030 Water Resources Group, water demand in India will reach 1.5 trillion cubic meters in 2030 while India’s current water supply is only 740 billion cubic meters which also implies that 40 per cent people in India may not have water to drink by 2030. The situation would be worse if we consider some stark facts:

• The Central Pollution Control Board estimates that nearly half of the country’s 445 rivers are too polluted for safe consumption and not a single river’s water can be consumed without extensive treatment. The UN has ranked India 120th of 122 countries for water quality, estimating that 70 per cent of the supply is contaminated. The World Bank estimates that 21 per cent of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. In India, diarrhoea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily. As reported by World Resources Institute, 54 per cent of India’s total area is under high to extremely high water stress and groundwater levels are declining in 54 per cent of wells across India.

• Moreover, India shares its rivers with China, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Social conflicts based on water crisis have already started in the country. There is also rising tension between states on river linking projects.

• The impact of climate change on water availability has already been quite telling. There has been an increase in frequency of droughts with already five droughts from 2000 till now as compared to 10 drought years between 1950 and 1990. The frequency is expected to increase further between 2020 and 2049.

Unless addressed immediately, India will soon become severely water-stressed with the national supply falling to 40 to 50 per cent of demand by 2030. Efforts on water sustainability should address food, climate, agriculture, industry and ecosystems which depend on water. The use of water in industry is expected to grow to 13 per cent from the current 8 per cent between 2010 and 2050 as per some estimates. Needless to say, with agriculture using 75 per cent of water, efficient use of water therein is critical for India. Resource mismanagement, underdeveloped infrastructure and unequal governance structures, are at the heart of Indian water and food insecurity.

The government is already planning interlinking of rivers for preventing floods and improving water distribution in India. However, it needs to consider the socio-economic displacements, the quality of water rerouted and availability of sufficient water for interlinking. We need to promote water augmentation measures like rainwater harvesting, aquifer and groundwater recharge and expansion of water storage capacity through scientific methods. Integrated Watershed Management (IWM), efficient irrigation practices, control of water pollution will help ease the problem.

For waste water management, we need water recycling and reuse programmes with a focus on reducing the energy cost of waste water treatment. Zero Liquid Discharge facilities for reusing and recycling every drop of water could be encouraged based on cost effectiveness. By developing monitoring methodologies like water balance, foot printing and auditing, awareness can be created encouraging improved technologies being adopted by municipalities, agriculture and industry. The government should formulate compliance standards for different segments of water users.

For an effective policy and regulatory framework, India needs to encourage baseline data collection for water quantity and quality and thus regulate water allocation and water pumping.We need to propose realistic pricing of water, based on investments made and introduce rewards and punishments for maintaining discipline in water management. Immediate measures include policy reviews, ban on flood irrigation, discontinuation of free power supply to pump underground water and prevention of untreated sewage and effluent into rivers. Creation of a market for treated municipal wastewater needs to be encouraged and incentivised.

An analytical framework to facilitate decision-making and investment into the sector, particularly on measures of efficiency and water productivity should be formulated to accelerate financing and investments in the water sector with novel financing models, which may involve public-private partnerships. Further, convergence of water development programmes may result in better outputs. Thus, solving India’s water crisis will require sustained political will, strong governance structures, efficient use of public funds, effective public-private partnership frameworks, and greater awareness of stakeholders. The FICCI Water Mission has tasked itself with creating public discourse around such issues, policy advocacy, and sensitising industry about the best practices of its peer group on water use and efficiency.

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.

Naina Lal Kidwai

Chairperson, Max Financial Services

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