Gravity of India’s water situation

R ecently, the NITI Aayog released a report that highlighted the gravity of India’s water situation. The country is facing its worst water crisis in history and if no action is taken to address this, the demand for water would far outstrip its supply by 2030. In fact, even by 2020, it is expected that 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater.. The crisis is mainly being brought about by three specific factors: climate change, pollution and poor farming practices. Exceptionally hot summers and shortened winters are resulting in retreating Himalayan glaciers, which feed most of India’s northern rivers.

The erratic monsoons are further worsening the situation throughout the country. This has led to an escalation in river disputes among states. At least six states are in constant conflict over the Yamuna in the north, the Narmada in the midwest and the Kaveri in the south. Water pollution is another source of the crisis. All waterbodies in India within or near populated areas are contaminated with organic and hazardous pollutants. Bengaluru’s Bellandur Lake is a case in point. The water body is so toxic that methane fires regularly break out on its surface. Due to such pollution levels, not a single Indian city can provide clean tap water throughout the day.

Even the groundwater situation is dismal. A lack of proper wastewater treatment that is spewed from domestic and industrial sources has led to progressive contamination of groundwater posing health risks to those who depend upon it for their daily use. Another factor which can be said to one of the major reasons for the increasing stress on water tables is the prevalence of poor farming practices across India. By some estimates, Indian agriculture accounts for about 90 percent of the country’s annual domestic water consumption. Due to a lack of reliable irrigation sources, farmers usually depend on underground sources of water. Over the last three decades, there has been an explosive growth of private tube-well construction across Indian farms.

Since farmers are provided with free electricity, it often leads to excessive pumping. In fact, India now uses more groundwater than China and the US combines. Consequently, the country has witnessed a sharp drop in its water table levels. India can do little about climate change in the short-term, but a lot can be done for the latter aspects. NITI’s efforts to build a Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) is a commendable step towards data-based policy making.Also, issues like pollution and exploitative farming practices need to be addressed on a national scale. It is promising to see the government taking proactive steps to stem the problem before it becomes unmanageable.

Hopefully, a shift in water management will become visible at the ground level. Any laxity will have disastrous consequences as the issue will have an impact on every aspect of the economy, especially agriculture, which still employs almost half the country’s population.

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