India’s fresh water sources are rapidly dwindling. The depletion can cause droughtand worsen agrarian crisis in Maharashtra and Northern Karnataka, two of the worst hit parts. Large swathes of Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh are already ranked as over-withdrawal areas, where demand on water exceeds 100 percent of the availability.
Globally, too, the situation is far from rosy. A report by the World Economic Forum(2015) identifies water crises as the biggest risk the world faces over the next 10 years.
Civil society, political, and business leaders agree that “the issue of water security is one of the most severe and problematic socio-politico-economic challenges that is being faced today.”
Rivers transform into sites of intense water struggles in India
The crisis could lead to water conflicts and disputes between industry and agricultureas they struggle for limited resources. We already see interstate river water disputesbetween Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu (Cauvery Water Dispute); Karnataka, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra (Krishna Water Dispute); Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan (Ravi and Beas river water dispute). All these are yet to be resolved. Rivers that were considered holy have become sites of confrontation between states leading to social discord, protests, riots, etc. in which people have lost lives and life has come to a standstill there. In fact, if drastic measures are not put into place, there could be several others in the future in the absence of proper water management.
India staring at 50% water deficiency by the year 2030
According to a WaterAid report, India ranks among some of the worst countries as far as access to safe water is concerned—around 76 million people are outside the ambit of safe water supply. The report says the situation can go downhill unless measures are in place. According to a forecast by the Asian Development Bank, India is on course for a whopping 50% water deficiency by 2030.
Political and institutional indifference and incompetence and mismanagement have all contributed to the crisis, along with a complete breakdown of communication at the central, state and municipal levels for resolving the problem. Absence of effective rules and regulations, coupled with corruption fueled the crisis.
Dependency on coal deepening water crisis: Greenpeace
Moreover, according to a report released by Greenpeace International titled ‘The Great Water Grab: How the coal industry is deepening the global water crisis’, a quarter of globally proposed new coal plants are to be located in regions already suffering from severe over-withdrawal of freshwater resources (called red-list areas). On this list, India ranks second as 52 GW of thermal power plants are proposed in red-list areas with an additional 122 GW proposed in high or extremely high water stress areas. Overall, more than 40% of the proposed Indian coal sites will be located in high water stress areas.
“In terms of its threat to humanity, coal has achieved a devastating hattrick. Burning coal is not only a threat to the climate and the health of our children, but it is uses up the very water we need to sustain our lives,” said Harri Lammi, a global campaigner for Greenpeace.
Coal is considered to be one of the most water-intensive ways of power generation. The International Energy Agency says that coal will be responsible for 50 percent growth in water consumption for electricity generation in the next 20 years, globally.
Recycling and water harvesting the way forward: United Nations
A United Nations report, issued on World Water Day, says that recycling wastewater, which goes untreated, could ease global water deficiencies and help in environment conservation.
“Neglecting the opportunities arising from improved wastewater management is nothing less than unthinkable,” said Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, one of the UN bodies allied with the effort.
Water is indispensable for life and plays a crucial role in human and social development. All historic and prehistoric societies were always established near water sources. It is needed for a range of activities: food and energy production, sanitation and health, industrial activities and economic development, among several others.
India’s population is expected to burgeon to an estimated 1.7 billion by 2050. According to the Ministry of Water Resources, India’s water requirements are around 1100 billion cubic metres per year, will be about 1200 billion cubic metres for 2025 and 1447 billion cubic metres for 2050. It is anybody’s guess if at all these requirements would be fulfilled.