Water Issues in India

Water Issues in India
Posted on 21-08-2023

Although water is considered a renewable resource, it's important to recognize its finite nature. Merely 3% of the world's water is freshwater, and about a third of this amount remains inaccessible. The remaining portion is distributed unevenly, with contamination from industrial, agricultural, and household waste affecting its quality. The Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) of 2018 predicted a potential 6% loss in global economic GDP by 2050 due to water-related issues, and by 2030, water demand is projected to surpass available supply. A recent report by NITI Aayog highlighted that 21 Indian cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad, could face groundwater depletion, impacting nearly 100 million people, as early as 2020.

Agricultural Irrigation Stress:

In regions like Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh, over 85% of cultivated land depends on irrigation, primarily through tube wells, for crops like wheat and rice. Unfortunately, excessive groundwater usage in these states has led to depletion of this vital resource. In states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra, excessive withdrawals have not only increased fluoride concentrations in groundwater but also raised arsenic levels in parts of West Bengal and Bihar.

Population and Water Demands:

The dwindling per capita water availability is a direct result of increasing population. The simultaneous rise in population, industrialization, agricultural expansion, and improved living standards has escalated the demand for water. Projections suggest that in around three decades, a significant portion of the population, roughly one-third, might experience chronic water shortages.

Deteriorating Water Quality:

Toxic substances that find their way into water bodies, whether through direct discharge or seepage, cause pollution. Notably, the Ganga and Yamuna rivers are among India's most polluted waterways. Pollution stems mainly from untreated or partially treated sewage and industrial effluents, inadequacies in the maintenance of treatment facilities, improper waste disposal on riverbanks, and other sources. The Central Pollution Control Board's 2018 assessment identified 351 polluted river stretches in India, with Maharashtra accounting for the highest number at 53.

Despite water's renewable nature, its scarcity is undeniable. With a mere 3% of fresh water available globally and only a portion of that accessible, contamination and uneven distribution pose significant challenges. Water-related issues such as depletion, pollution, and increased demand due to population growth and development underscore the urgent need for sustainable water management practices.

Water security in India pertains to ensuring sufficient and clean water resources to meet the growing demand, while also maintaining the sustainability of water ecosystems. Aligned with the UN Water definition, it encompasses access to safe drinking water, efficient water resource management, and minimizing water-borne diseases. India faces significant water security challenges such as groundwater depletion, water pollution, and uneven water resource distribution. Successfully tackling these challenges is vital for the nation's development, citizens' well-being, and environmental health.

The concept of traditional and non-traditional threats in water security has gained traction among various stakeholders including government, academics, and civil society. Initially centered on technical aspects of water supply, the definition has evolved to encompass social, economic, and environmental elements, like water quality, allocation, and governance.

In India, water security has taken on the form of a non-traditional threat due to its intricate connections with agriculture, energy, health, and the environment. The country contends with water-related hurdles such as scarcity, pollution, floods, and droughts, impacting various sectors. This non-traditional perspective calls for holistic solutions, involving different players and a comprehensive range of policies and practices. Effective water governance, advanced management, and technological investments are essential components.

Several challenges jeopardize water security in India. Over-extraction of groundwater, water pollution, poor distribution, inadequate management, climate change, and water-related conflicts all undermine the nation's development. Groundwater overuse, mainly for irrigation, has led to depletion. Industrialization and urbanization have contributed to water pollution, rendering water bodies unsafe for consumption. Variations in water availability across regions and inadequate management systems exacerbate the situation. Climate change-induced irregularities in monsoons and disasters intensify water stress. The scarcity is further inflamed by inter-state and inter-sectoral disputes over water usage.

Remedying water security in India necessitates a multi-pronged approach encompassing policy, technology, and behavioral interventions. Robust water governance, supported by clear policies and institutions, is essential. Implementing efficient water management practices, like rainwater harvesting, will mitigate waste and augment availability. Infrastructure investments such as dams, reservoirs, and canals will bolster water storage, distribution, and disaster mitigation. Embracing water-efficient technologies and enforcing pollution control regulations can reduce consumption and improve water quality. Behavioral shifts towards water conservation and hygiene practices are critical.

Solving these issues demands collaborative efforts involving government bodies, civil society, private sector, and communities. By investing in water security, India can enhance water availability, quality, and overall economic development.

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