Water crisis is upon us

Niti Aayog’s recent report on water is the latest warning about the dwindling of the supply and availability of water in the country and the scary situation it is headed for. The crisis is already here. About 60 crore people — nearly half of the population — and most cities are facing water shortage. The situation in 21 major cities will be extremely bad by 2020 and, in 10 years, the available supply may meet only half of the demand. It is not just a problem of availability. About 70% of the resource is contaminated. India’s rank in the water quality index is 120 among 122 countries. Climate change will worsen the situation in ways not imagined till now. The country will have to cope with too much rain when it is not needed and too little of it when it is needed, and both are bad situations. 

The forebodings in the report have already come true in the recent shortages experienced in cities like Shimla, Delhi, Guwahati, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. The monsoon has eased the situation is some places, but this is passing relief. The most monsoon-rich states have started experiencing severe shortages in the summer. Over-extraction, overuse and misuse of water are major reasons for the shortage. The report has warned that Bengaluru will run out of underground water in two years if the present pace of extraction continues. When water is not available for drinking and for irrigation, it will have serious consequences for the lives of people and for the economy. Industrial use is also not insignificant. There are many other ways in which the shortage of water can hit lives. Shimla’s tourism industry collapsed when the city was brought to its knees by shortage of water. About two lakh people die each year due to water-related diseases and many more suffer from diseases. The medical cost of this is very high. The economic impact of water shortage in the near future will be 6% of the GDP. The human and social cost will be difficult to compute. 

The solutions for the problem are known but are not seriously pursued and implemented. Much of the shortage is the result of mismanagement. Water resources should be conserved and should not be wasted or misused. Experts have said that India’s agricultural sector can produce more with half the water it uses now. Water-harvesting and treatment and recycling of waste water should receive the highest attention. Most importantly, public awareness should be raised about the value of water. The Niti Aayog paper is another reminder, and its proposals like establishing a water management index should receive immediate attention.  

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Water crisis is upon us

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