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India needs to fix water crisis on priority

Over 600 million Indians are facing an acute shortage of water even as 200,000 die every year.


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Updated: June 18, 2018

The world’s largest consumer of groundwater resources – India – is staring at the worst-ever long-term water crisis in its history with millions of lives under threat.

Over 600 million Indians are facing an acute shortage of water, even as 200,000 die every year, according to a report by the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, a premier policy think tank of the government of India.

The report on Composite Water Management Index presented at the NITI Aayog meet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, has warned that the water crisis will worsen by 2030 with the demand for water being doubled.

The scarcity will also impact the economy with around 6 percent loss to the GDP.

Millions of Indians rely on the monsoon rain every year to replenish water sources even as the unpredictable nature of rain – droughts or floods – leaves them vulnerable year-after- year.

The NITI Aayog report ranks Gujarat, Modi’s home state, at top in managing its water resources in the 2016-17 followed by Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. The worst hit states are Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar – in India’s north.

The report recommends a greater cooperation between the Centre and states to redress the crisis.

“There is an opportunity to improve Centre-state and inter-state cooperation across the broader water ecosystem. Water management is often currently viewed as a zero-sum game by states due to limited frameworks for inter-state and national management.

“This has resulted in seven major disputes regarding the country’s rivers, involving 11 states, as well as limited policy coordination on issues like agricultural incentives, pump electricity pricing etc,” the report states.

Apart from the 11 Indian states that are locked in disputes over river water-sharing, India is also caught up in long-standing disputes with its neighbours – China, Pakistan and Bangladesh – over the sharing of water from rivers that cross national boundaries.

The study warned of conflict and other related threats, including food security risks, unless actions are taken to restore water bodies. Scores of people have already died in violent protests over the Cauvery river water dispute between southern Indian states Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

“Critical groundwater resources, which account for 40 percent of our water supply, are being depleted at unsustainable rates,” the report pointed out.

Last month, the World Resources Institute (WRI), too, raised similar concerns about shrinking water reservoirs in India – which is the world’s largest consumer of groundwater resources. It blamed the rapid increase in population, urbanisation and industrialisation as the prime culprits for depleting water resources. And the pollution of rivers has compounded the problem.

Tianyi Luo, senior manager, Water Risks & Data Analytics, Global Water Program at World Resources Institute said that WRI’s analysis said India could reduce its water consumption intensity by more than 25 per cent just by achieving its renewable energy targets by 2022.

“If the ’40/60′ renewable energy development target proposed by the Government of India were successfully implemented, the water consumption intensity of India’s power sector (hydro excluded) would decrease by as much as 25%. We came up those estimates by conducting scenario analysis using CEA’s future power projections,” Luo was quoted as saying by Business Standard.

The institute recommended to India’s Ministry of Power to make it mandatory for power plants to start monitoring and disclosing water withdrawal and discharge data, leveraging its existing daily reporting system.

The widening gap between demand for water and its supply is estimated to reach a high of about 50 per cent by 2030 and plugging this will need an additional investment of about US$291 billion, according to another report (ASSOCHAM-PwC joint study).

“This will mean that the additional funding required only to plug the demand-supply gap in 2030 is higher than the Government of India’s 2016-17 budget, that is, Rs 20 trillion,” Business Standard reported.

As against the requirement of 140 litres per capita per day, urban India receives only 105 litres of water on a per capita basis.

According to Qrius, the Asian Development Bank has also forecasted that by 2030 India will have a water deficit of 50 percent.

The average Indian had access to 5,200 cubic metres a year of water in 1951, shortly after independence when the population was 350 million. By 2010, that had fallen to 1,600 cubic metres, a level regarded as ‘water-stressed’ by international organisations. Today, it is at about 1,400 cubic metres, and analysts say it is likely to fall below the 1,000 cubic metre ‘water scarcity’ limit in the next two to three decades.



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Lamat R Hasan
About the Author: Lamat is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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