India: Challenges of Water Management

Water is going to be the toughest commodity to be managed in future. That is why the emphasis on this topic is more. While many countries are not letting even water in their excreta to go a waste, we are ignorantly allowing excreta to mix with our drinking water.

Throughout the geological eras India has been a water efficient country. During the past few decades unprecedented things have happened leading to water deficiency in many parts of the country. The problem needs a relook and find ways and means for a sustainable water management. 

Climate change hits the poor or developing countries more. Similarly in any country poor and deprived people are hit by the climate change more than the affluent ones. Similar is the impact of water shortage or access. It is known that the climate change phenomenon does lead to access rainfall or droughts. The problem is further compounded by the population pressure and severe contamination of surface water sources.

Before trying to tackle the problem we must keep in mind that concentration of population is many times more along the major river valleys. Naturally it has led to a higher demand of water and improper waste management has caused acute contamination of rivers. Yamuna at Delhi is a classic example.

Water is a peculiar natural resource. Very few people know that whatever water is present on our planet today, the quantity has been same even 100 million years ago! Very few of us know that the water with which we rinsed our mouth in the morning may have been used by a dinosaur to bathe her baby some 70 million years ago! Yet another fact is that the rivers are not merely conduits of water, but they are intricately and intimately connected with ground water. Thus whatever water is at the surface in the form of rivers is a part of the subsurface hydrologic regime.

Water balance is maintained by the water cycle. It need not be elaborated here that how the seawater evaporates and gets converted to clouds and come down again as rain. Part of this water finds way to subsurface to enhance the storage there, a part turns ice and the rest flows down the rivers to reach the sea.

There are many problems for those who manage the water for the people. For example, the burst of population has stressed the food chain. As per the 2011 census the population has turned out to be 111 million more than the estimates projected in 2010. Naturally there are many more hungry mouths to be fed than estimated. We are largely dependent on groundwater for irrigation. Groundwater resource is like a bank account-which turns red if money is only withdrawn and deposits are nil or less. Likewise there is pressure on extraction of groundwater, while the rain god decides to pour in huge quantities in a short time. In a spree of development we have created concrete surfaces in the urban areas-naturally bulk of rain water is lost as run off. While demand for groundwater for irrigation goes on increasing the resource gets dearer due to less recharge.

Sustainable water management in India has scores of challenges like bridging the gap between demand and supply, providing enough water for food production and balancing the uses between competing demands, meeting the growing demands of metros and other big cities, treatment of wastewater, sharing of water with the neighboring countries and amongst the co-basin states etc., says Sharad K. Jain of IIT Roorkee in one of his papers.

The challenge of food production alone is gargantuan. For example, a typical Indian consumes food that takes 2000 to 5000 liters of water to produce. It is estimated that in the coming 40 years an additional 40 crore people will be added to already existing 121 crore people. Imagine the quantum of water required to feed these mouths! As of now there is no technology to produce the quantity of projected water requirement for food production alone. Globally nearly 70% water is consumed by agriculture sector, 22% by industry and 8% is consumed by domestic users. By 2030 more than 50% of the world will be living under water stress even if a status quo is maintained says a UN estimate.

Metros and large towns have their own woes when it comes to water supply. Surface source like a river are generally heavily polluted. Many towns had lakes as a free gift from the nature. Over a period of time they have been meticulously filled up with urban waste and converted to housing plots. Lucknow had about 300 such lakes as per the Survey of India’s map of 1912. Even as late as the sixties many water bodies existed around which colonies had sprung up. Alas, today there is no trace of those water bodies, while the town is heading for a water crisis at a fast pace.

Is it a crisis of quantity or of management? In the Indian context it is a crisis of both. Noted scholar and biologist E.O. Wilson said, ‘The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct’. 

The problem is that neither the population can be reduced overnight, nor extra sources of water can be found in deficit areas with a magic wand. The issue needs to be tackled by meeting the challenge squarely and apply scientific and technological methods to overcome the problem. Climate change cannot be wished away. May be the improvement in the quality of vehicular and industrial exhaust and all other human factors responsible for accelerating the process can be slowed down by human efforts only, yet the nature’s process cannot be stopped. The worst affected area as a consequence of climate change will be water. Therefore time is ripe for creating awareness about the problem and also ways to conserve water. 

We have to ensure that not a single drop of Green water (rain water) is lost as a run off. We have to adopt recycling of kitchen wastewater-a measure adopted by the Tamilnadu Government that is supposed to be yielding excellent results. Unless we adopt strict measures and develop a strict self-discipline, water crisis will not resolve of its own.  


More by :  V. K. Joshi (Bijji)

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