India’s growing water crisis, the seen and the unseen Author: Srikumar Chattopdhyay


Global concern over the sharp increase in freshwater withdrawal from streams, lakes, aquifers, and man-made reservoirs, as well as the impending water stress and water scarcity being experienced in various parts of the world, has been captured in the United Nations World Water Development Report of 2022 (UN WWDR 2022) published by UNESCO.

The paper "Groundwater: Making the Invisible Visible" details the difficulties and chances that come with the global development, administration, and control of groundwater.

According to a research, groundwater supplies 99 percent of the world's liquid freshwater. However, because of its lack of understanding, this natural resource is underestimated, improperly managed, and even exploited.

The subject of World Water Day in 2007 was "Coping with Water Scarcity" (observed on March 22).

In its most recent Water Report, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations voiced a warning about this silent global disaster, in which millions of people lack access to water for survival and livelihood.

A recent World Water Week 2022 with the subject "Seeing the Unseen: The Value of Water" was held in Stockholm, Sweden (23 August to 1 September).

Prior to the UN-Water Summit on Groundwater in Paris in December 2022, these discussions should serve to advance the water agenda.

The UN Water Conference, officially titled as the 2023 Conference for the Midterm Comprehensive Review of Implementation of the UN Decade for Action on Water and Sanitation, will advance the agenda in New York in March 2023. (2018-2028).

Growing water stress

An interactive web tool called the Water Scarcity Clock reveals that more than two billion people currently reside in nations with high water stress, and that figure will keep growing.

Major regions of India, especially those in the west, centre, and sections of peninsular India, are extremely water stressed and experiencing water scarcity, according to the Global Drought Risk and Water Stress map (2019).

More than 600 million people are experiencing severe water shortages, according to a 2018 NITI Aayog report titled "Composite Water Management Index," which has sounded a warning about the country's biggest water disaster.

Areas with a severe lack of water typically use stored surface water bodies or aquifers, water that has been transported from the hinterlands or upper catchments, or both. Regional and sectoral competition is sparked by this.

One such worldwide issue that has been recognised in many nations since the early 20th century is the growing trans-boundary flow of water between rural and urban areas.

According to a 2019 Review study, metropolitan water infrastructure imports 500 billion litres of water daily from a combined distance of 27,000 kilometres.

Inter-basin transfers are used in at least 12% of major cities worldwide.

A 2016 UN report titled "Trans Boundary Waters Systems - Status and Trend" made a connection between the problem of water transfer and a number of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were slated for achievement between 2015 and 2030.

The report outlined three categories of water transfer risks: biophysical, socioeconomic, and governance.

South Asia, which includes India, is considered to have the largest socioeconomic and biophysical dangers.

Rural-Urban Water Use

According to Census 2011, there were 7,935 towns of all classes with an urban population of 34% of the country's total population.

According to a research, the proportion of India's population living in cities is expected to reach 40% by 2030 and 50% by 2050.

Although India has historically urbanised slowly, it is currently doing so quickly.

As more people move to cities, water use in the urban sector will rise even more, and water use per person will keep rising as living standards rise.

When a city is young and still small, its primary priority is its water supply. Local groundwater supplies provide the majority of the water, which is also sourced locally.

Surface water becomes more and more important as the city expands and its water management system matures.

As cities expand, water sources move higher into the hinterlands or urban water allocation is increased at the price of agriculture water.

This pattern is seen in almost all surface-water dependent Indian cities. City water supply is now a topic for water transfers between basins and states.

Cities rely heavily on rural areas for their raw water supply, regardless of the source—surface or groundwater—which could spark a conflict between rural and urban communities.

Studies that have been conducted on Nagpur and Chennai point to the impending issue of rural-urban water disputes that the nation may experience in the not-too-distant future as water shortage increases and is made worse by climate change.

In India, the transfer of water from rural to urban regions now results in a lose-lose situation because water is transferred at the expense of rural communities and the agricultural industry.

With minimal recovery or reuse, most of this water in cities is in the form of grey water, which eventually contributes to water contamination.

Rural and urban communities, however, draw their water from the same source—the nation's water resources. As a result, it's critical to pursue win-win scenarios.

By resolving the governance issues in rural and urban areas, encouraging rural-urban cooperation, and implementing an integrated approach to water management, such a situation is made possible.

Ahmedabad Case study

Up until the middle of the 1980s, more than 80% of Ahmedabad's water needs were satisfied by groundwater sources. In limited aquifers, the depth to the groundwater level was 67 metres.

The majority of the city's water supply presently comes from the Narmada canal. As a result of surface water transfers between states and basins, local groundwater is being replaced by canal water.

Even in the peri-urban areas of practically all large cities that have transitioned to surface water sources, reliance on groundwater still exists.

The recharge regions of groundwater aquifers are dispersed over a large area that extends well beyond the city boundary or its perimeter and are challenging to enumerate, whereas surface water transfer from rural to urban areas is apparent and can be calculated.

Way Ahead

In order to address the severe water problems, the world is currently experiencing, a system perspective and catchment scale-based strategy are required to link water reallocation with broader conversations on development, infrastructure investment, etc.

The opportunity to add flexibility to the regional allocation of water resources can also be provided through institutional strengthening, allowing for modifications in areas that are quickly urbanising.

Source: THe Hindu

Posted by V.P.Nimbalkar on 15th Sep 2022