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Water For Inclusive Development: Industry's Role

To solve the crisis before it becomes unmanageable we need collaboration from all major actors, such as the government, industry, research organisations and the public, especially to check the untrammelled use of groundwater

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Of all our natural resources, water underpins sustainable development as perhaps none other. Food, energy, health, industry, biodiversity there is no sphere of planetary life or human endeavour untouched by water.

But, in many cases, urbanisation, economic development, climate change, and the need to produce more food for a growing population are limiting water availability. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. A central challenge for sustainable development is how to balance the competing uses of water; ensure that the needs of all-especially of the poor and marginalized are met, and maintain healthy and diverse ecosystems.

India, home to 16 per cent of the world's population, has only 2.5 per cent of the world's land area and 4 per cent of the world's water resources at its disposal. Of the 1,869 trillion litres of water reserves, only an estimated 1,122 trillion litres can be exploited due to topographic constraints and distribution effects. As of 2010 consumption in the country is approximately 581 trillion litres with irrigation requirements accounting for a staggering 89 percent followed by domestic use at 7 percent and industrial use at 4 per cent (NCIWRD, XIth Five Year Plan).

Domestic demand is expected to grow by 40 per cent from 41 to 55 trillion litres while irrigation will require only 14 per cent more ten years hence, 592 trillion litres up from 517 trillion litres (NCIWRD).

As per a survey conducted by the Columbia Water Institute, Indian industrial sectors were analysed in conjunction with the water stress index. About 43 per cent of the companies surveyed were in districts experiencing periodic multi-year droughts and requiring large inter-annual or carry over storages to meet the existing demands for water (including agricultural water use). Furthermore, about 21 per cent of the companies were located in districts where the average demand for water persistently exceeds annual supply. This showed that a large percentage of the companies were physically located in regions already facing water stress. This was further corroborated by the fact that a majority of these companies (75 per cent) indicated difficulty in water availability and/or high water pricing as issues

Globally, the greatest water risks are coming from conditions over which companies have the least influence. An ultra-efficient factory faces risk if it is in a region where the water management system is dysfunctional. This reality has caused companies to look outside their factory fence line for solutions. In fact, a strong business case (measured in return on investment) is emerging globally for engaging with external actors and partnering on water issues.

In India, while industries at present have less demand than domestic and agriculture sector, the impact of industries in terms of pollution of water resources is high. Therefore, simply working on technologies and concepts of zero discharge concept may not be sufficient, given that we are moving towards water stressed situation.

One of the best examples of industries working on water resource management holistically is ITC's Integrated Watershed Development Program (IWDP) in which the company has taken a landscape approach for conservation and management of water and other natural resources and the creation of sustainable livelihoods as its cornerstones. The majority of the watershed projects are located in areas where ITC's e-Choupal operates and it has its agri- businesses. These watershed development projects enable the company to maintain its water positive status and help build the resilience of farmers to extreme weather episodes.

A cement sector giant Ambuja Cement endeavour continues to emerge as among the world's most water positive Company. A combination of various programs and water-harvesting methods such as check dams, micro and drip irrigation, and conventional dams are employed for water resource management. Through rainwater harvesting, large quantities of water were collected that would have otherwise gone unused. Steadily the results grow with each year.

To solve the crisis before it becomes unmanageable we need collaboration from all major actors, such as the government, industry, research organisations and the public, especially to check the untrammelled use of groundwater. A landscape approach at a sub-basin level needs to be planned, work needs to done in policy, technology and awareness levels and sustainable action needs to be taken by including biodiversity as a key element, to make the solution permanent. Finally, supply-side augmentation must be accompanied with demand-side management if the sustainable use of water resources has to become a reality. If we do not act now, the hunger for higher growth will be a distant reality with all major areas of development prone to high risks and the marginalised communities being affected the hardest.

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.

Seema Arora

The author is Executive Director, CII-ITC Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Development

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