Water Resources in India

Water Resources in India
Posted on 21-08-2023

Water, an invaluable natural resource, stands as a pivotal driver for a nation's socio-economic progress. Serving diverse needs such as consumption, sanitation, agriculture, industry, and more, water's indispensability to life cannot be overstated. Despite covering approximately 71% of Earth's surface, the global distribution of water renders only a minute portion suitable for human use.

Focusing on India's context, this nation encompasses about 2.45% of the planet's landmass and possesses approximately 4% of its water reservoirs. The primary source of fresh water here is rainfall. Annually, India receives around 4000 cubic km of water through precipitation, including snowfall. Regrettably, a significant proportion of this water is lost to processes like evaporation and plant transpiration. This loss, coupled with challenges of geographic layout and uneven distribution, culminates in restricted availability of usable water resources.

Both surface water and replenishable groundwater constitute India's water reservoirs, amounting to 1,869 cubic km. However, only 60% of this total can be harnessed for beneficial applications. Consequently, the total water resource that can be effectively utilized in the country stands at 1,122 cubic km.

Water Resources and Their Distribution

Water, a vital asset crucial for sustaining life and development, varies widely in its distribution across the Earth. These water resources encompass natural reservoirs that hold potential as sources of water for various needs. A significant portion, approximately 97%, constitutes saltwater, leaving a mere 3% as freshwater. Within this limited freshwater fraction, about two-thirds remain locked in glaciers and polar ice caps. The remainder of unfrozen freshwater, largely present as groundwater, only possesses a small surface and atmospheric presence.

India's Water Wealth

Covering roughly 2.45% of the global land area, India holds approximately 4% of the world's water resources. In this country, the principal origin of freshwater is rainfall. Remarkably, India secures the second-highest rainfall amount for its size. Annually, an average of 1,170 millimeters (46 inches) of rain graces Indian soils, yielding roughly 4,000 cubic kilometers (960 cubic miles) of rainfall or around 1,720 cubic meters (61,000 cubic feet) of freshwater per individual.

Classifying India's Water Resources

India's water resources categorize into two types: surface water and groundwater. Four prominent surface water sources are rivers, lakes, ponds, and tanks. The nation boasts over 10,360 rivers and their tributaries, each extending more than 1.6 kilometers in length. While India's river basins annually yield about 1,869 cubic kilometers of water, merely 690 cubic kilometers (37%) of accessible surface water can be utilized. The constraints stem from factors like the concentrated flow within a short period in Himalayan rivers and inadequate storage sites.

Groundwater reserves in India amount to approximately 432 cubic kilometers, with a notable 46% located in the Ganga and Brahmaputra basins. High groundwater usage characterizes northwestern river basins and certain southern regions. This resource supports more than half of the country's irrigated land and serves about 20 million tube wells.

Challenges and Conservation Efforts

Issues like water pollution and scarcity permeate India's water landscape. A staggering 70% of the nation's surface water resources endure contamination due to factors such as industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and untreated urban runoff. Aquifer depletion, rising temperatures, rapid urbanization, and climate change compound water stress.

To combat these challenges, the Indian government has launched initiatives like the 'Jal Shakti Abhiyan,' 'Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchay Yojana,' 'National Water Mission,' and 'Jal Jeevan Mission.' These programs aim to enhance water conservation, distribution, and quality through integrated approaches and community participation.

Water, a fundamental and indispensable resource, sustains life and development. Despite India's abundant water reserves, mismanagement, pollution, and scarcity threaten its availability. To safeguard this precious resource, both governmental action and collective efforts are imperative. A concerted endeavor is vital to ensure the preservation and responsible use of water resources for the well-being of present and future generations.

Water resources are essential natural assets that hold the potential to serve as vital water supplies. Earth's water distribution is such that 97% of it is saline, leaving only a minor 3% as freshwater, of which a significant portion is locked in glaciers and ice caps. The accessible freshwater primarily exists as groundwater, with a limited amount on the surface or in the atmosphere. The origins of freshwater range from surface water and underground aquifers to frozen forms. Augmented sources encompass treated wastewater and desalinated seawater.

India's water resources encompass data on rainfall, surface and groundwater storage, and hydropower potential. The nation encounters an average annual precipitation of 1,170 millimeters, which equates to around 4,000 cubic kilometers of annual rainfall or approximately 1,720 cubic meters of freshwater per person yearly. India holds about 18% of the global population but just 4% of its water resources.

A potential solution for India's water predicament is the establishment of an interconnected river system, the Indian Rivers Inter-link. Although nearly 80% of the country experiences annual rainfall exceeding 750 millimeters, this precipitation isn't uniform geographically or temporally. The majority of rainfall occurs during monsoon seasons, primarily from June to September, with the north and northeast regions receiving more rain compared to the west and south. Additionally, melting Himalayan snow contributes to northern river flows. However, southern rivers exhibit more variable flow patterns, leading to periodic flooding and water scarcity.

Despite having an extensive river network, India grapples with water scarcity for safe drinking and irrigation purposes. In 2010, only about 20% of the available water resources were harnessed, and a significant share of this came from unsustainable groundwater usage. This withdrawal supported various sectors, with irrigation claiming the most substantial share.

Women in rural India face significant challenges in obtaining drinking water, often traveling long distances daily. Over-exploitation of groundwater aggravates water crises in villages, with 80% of drinking water needs reliant on groundwater. The country struggles with high levels of water-borne diseases, surpassing even some less developed nations. In urban areas, substantial water loss due to leaks and poor maintenance compounds the water availability issue.

Groundwater serves as a crucial source for both rural and urban drinking water, with significant regional variations. India's escalating water demand, coupled with issues like over-extraction and aquifer problems, exacerbates scarcity concerns. Furthermore, water pollution is pervasive, with a considerable percentage of surface water being contaminated due to factors like industrial runoff and untreated urban effluents.

Water scarcity's implications include health-related issues, displacement, and a higher disease burden. In rural areas, phone access surpasses access to safe drinking water. Climate change exacerbates water availability problems, with rising temperatures causing glacier retreat and altering water flows in Himalayan rivers. Virtual water footprints for various products highlight the resource-intensiveness of production processes, with items like chocolate and leather registering high water footprints.

Water resource management in India presents challenges stemming from availability, pollution, climate change, and uneven access. Efforts must be directed toward sustainable utilization, pollution control, and innovative solutions to ensure water security for the population's well-being and the nation's development.

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