On World Environment Day 2022, we take a look at India's water scarcity problem. Given the state of Indian rivers and our water usage pattern, India may witness a 6 percent loss in the country's GDP by 2050
By 2030, India will have less than half of the total demand for water. As per a NITI Aayog report, by then India will be able to supply 744 billion cubic meters of water against a demand for 1,498 billion cubic meters — a shortfall of over 50 percent. On World Environment Day, we take a look at India's water scarcity problem.
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The NITI Aayog report shows that 21 major cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad, are racing to reach zero groundwater levels. The report also states that India ranks third-last among 122 countries in the water quality index because 70 percent of water sources were found to be contaminated.
Due to river water contamination, poor water usage patterns, and lack of rainwater harvesting practices, India has become extremely dependent on monsoons, which are now more erratic due to climate change. Besides, India has just 4 percent of freshwater sources but about 18 percent of the world’s population lives in the country.
Exacerbating the issue, agricultural practices in India are damaging groundwater levels. Contrary to popular belief, industries and households use far less water than what is used in agriculture. In fact, it has been predicted that Punjab may turn into arid land if farmers continue to use gallons of water for paddy and wheat cultivation. Attempts to make farmers switch to less-water intensive crops are being met with resistance on the ground as paddy and wheat are purchased by the central government in large quantities.
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The sorry state of Indian rivers
Coming to the state of Indian rivers, three major river basins — Krishna, Godavari, and Cauvery — have been found to be severely distressed by the Central Water Commission. The Ken River, which flows through Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is drying up.
India's most sacred river Ganga is battling contamination. Due to the discharge of sewage water and industrial waste into Ganga, the river has been declared unfit for bathing (let alone consumption) by multiple studies. Recent studies have also shown that the river has an alarming proportion of faecal coliform (human excreta). While the Centre's Namami Ganga project is trying to bring some change on the ground, the lack of support from states, businesses, and citizens has made cleaning the river more challenging. This is despite the National Green Tribunal imposing a fine of Rs 25 lakh each on Jharkhand, West Bengal and Bihar for not taking adequate steps to curb pollution in the Ganga.
India's longest river Brahmaputra River is dealing with a similar crisis. A 2019 report revealed that at least 28 km of the river stretch in Assam is heavily polluted due to sewage waste and oil discharge. Diplomatic issues with China are also adding to the problem. According to several reports, China's dam-building activities are polluting the Siang waters, which flow through southern Tibet and become the Brahmaputra in Assam.
Probably the most contaminated large river is the Yamuna. Heavy metal discharges and peak levels of coliform have turned the Yamuna into a stinking drain. While the Yamuna Action Plan was launched by the Uttar Pradesh government in the 1990s, pollution levels have reduced. A monitoring committee appointed by the NGT highlighted that more than 22 drains dump sewage and industrial waste into the river.
The gloom is real
The NITI Aayog report said that, given the state of Indian rivers and our water usage pattern, India may witness a 6 percent loss in the country's GDP by 2050, added the report.
This worrying forecast forced the Central government to create a Jal Shakti portfolio in 2019. While the ministry has achieved considerable success in providing piped water to millions of households, rivers continue to be in dire straits. Additionally, not much has been done to promote rainwater harvesting.
If concrete steps are not taken, a large number of people may be forced to abandon city settlements. If anything, we can learn from our history. Nearly 2,500 years ago, the Indus Valley Civilisation vanished due to catastrophic water scarcity.
(Edited by : Sudarsanan Mani)