Is India now facing the worst water scarcity situation ever seen?

Rohit Chandavarkar
Tuesday, 16 October 2018

This country might be facing one of the worst water scarcity situations in the coming years. According to government estimates by 2020 some 21 cities in India including Delhi and Bengaluru could face acute shortage of water as ground water would run out. It’s time to start looking at this alarms seriously and act!

Mumbai, known as the city that never sleeps is perhaps now losing its sleep over a newly sensed crisis! The city is facing unprecedented water shortage right in the month of October, just about a month after monsoon has receded from the financial capital.

Known for one of the most expensive real estate in the entire world, south Mumbai’s plus Colaba and Cuff Parade areas saw angry residents coming out on the streets and protesting against disruption in water supply this week. The city has experienced water shortage in the past too but never just after monsoon and never in such intensity.

Mumbai is not alone. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced last week that the state is now facing water scarcity in as many an 200 tehsils of the 400 odd tehsils the state has. So almost half of Maharashtra is now standing on the verge of a drought situation. It’s a scary picture.

Earlier this year the NITI Ayog of government of India had issued a report which described this year’s water situation as alarming and said that India might be facing the worst ever water scarcity crisis in the coming years.

The report mentions that approximately 2,00,000 people die every year due to inadequate access to clean water and it’s only going to get worse as 21 cities are likely to run out of groundwater by 2020. In the longer term, the undersupply will become even more acute in the South Asian nation, as demand increases with the 1.4 billion population growing at a rate of around 1 per cent. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available s severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people.

Groundwater is increasingly used for farming when monsoon rains do not deliver a sufficient level of precipitation meaning there is little to drink.  There has been an effort to develop sustainable water supplies in India in recent years with water conservation legislation existing in 80 per cent of the country. However, poor data management and an abject failure to properly price water has prevented the country from making any significant progress.

Where data is available, it is often unreliable due to the use of outdated collection techniques and methodologies, according to the report. For example, groundwater data in India is based on an inadequate sample of about 55,000 wells out of a total of 12 million in the country.

Thought the state government in Maharashtra has undertaken certain water conservation schemes and many private organisations and NGOs have also taken the lead in creating awareness about conservation of water as well as rain harvesting in cities, the efforts clearly are not enough.

Lack of awareness about how water scarcity can become a serious crisis and political backing to water guzzling crops such as sugarcane have turned many districts of Maharashtra’s Marathwada region almost into an arid zone. Hundreds of sugar factories set up by politicians have encouraged farmers to turn towards cash crops like sugarcane which consume seven to ten times more water compared to any other traditional crop. This has resulted in the ground water levels dropping alarmingly.

In cities we have another problem. Wastage of water is phenomenally high. Just a couple of weeks ago Pune saw wastage of crores of litres of water because of a breach in water canal right inside the city. Similar wastage is seen happening because of canal or dam maintenance all over India.

Its time India takes its water conservation and rain water harvesting seriously. Awareness in urban rural areas, physical conservation activity and building of new artificial lakes is the need of the hour or else we would have a crisis looming within a couple of decades which will pose threat to the survival of humanity.

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