CNBC TV18 Column: The Looming Water Crisis

The water crisis is upon us. I write for CNBC-TV18

It was a tweet by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s disaster management handle @mybmc that brought home the ludicrousness of the water woes in the country. They said, “6 pumping stations of MCGM pumped out more than 14000 Million litres of water and discharged it into the sea which is more than the combined capacity of TULSI and VIHAR Lake.”

The Bureau of Indian Standards states that in urban India, with full flushing systems, the requirement of water is between 150 to 200 litres per head per day. It is lower in rural areas at about 70 to 100 litres per head per day. The 14,000 million litres of water could have gone a long way in solving the water problems of a sizable chunk of India for at least a few weeks.  At a time when cities such as Chennai, Bengaluru, and Delhi are running out of water, the throwing way of 14,000 million litres of fresh rainwater, seems like an awful waste.

According to the Niti Ayog Composite Water Management Index, 2018, India is facing an acute water crisis. Over 600 million Indians, half the Indian population, face high water stress, and over 200,000 people die because of lack of adequate safe water. It estimates that in a decade, by 2030, India’s demand of water will be twice the available water. And, unless something is done on a war footing, the future looks very bleak.

India has twin problems – areas that have an excessive supply of rainwater and get flooded. And, others that have a reduced supply of rainwater that leaves the land in drought conditions, and leaves both the land and the people parched. An ideal condition would be to see how rainwater in the excess rainwater areas can be conserved and reused effectively. Right now, there is more waste than conservation.   And, nowhere is this exemplified more than a metro like Mumbai, where monsoons see water being wasted, and the pre monsoon months sees water supplies being rationed.

With progress the amount of water needed, per head per year grows. For example, the United States consumption of water is over 300 litres per day per head. As India surges towards development, one of the key factors that needs to be looked at is the availability of water. A combination of burgeoning population, indiscriminate use of ground water resources, thoughtless construction activities, and climate change are leading to situations of water not just being scarce, but the scarcity of water being a factor in reversing development. India is still predominantly dependent on the South Westerly monsoons for replenishing her water sources. And, conserving the excess water from rains has been going poorly.

 Recently, in his first address to the nation via his show “Man Ki Baat”, the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, spoke about the need to be judicious with our water reserves. He called for collective will and action to solve the water woes of the country going ahead “Water scarcity affects many parts of the country every year. You will be surprised that only 8% of the water received from rains in the entire year is harvested in our country. Just and just 8%! Now the time has come to find a solution to this problem. I believe, like the other problems on hand, we can also solve this predicament by the participation of the people”. And, the starting point of this is to find methods of conserving rainwater and effectively utilising that. The combined capacity of the lakes of Tulsi and Vihar being wasted, in a two day period, is a crying shame in a nation where people are rationing water for every day needs.

Just as the first few governments of India took up the need for food self-sufficiency on a war footing, changing India from a nation that starved, to a nation with food surpluses – this Government needs to look at water self-sufficiency so that future generations of Indians don’t die for lack of water. With climate change leading to glaciers disappearing, the rivers fed by the glaciers will dry up. And, previously fertile regions of the nation will turn barren. To mitigate this, we need to find ways and means of generating water. Some of them could be expensive methods like desalination. Others could simply be more efficient ways of conserving water.

 It is in this regard that the creation of a Jalshakti ministry is interesting. An amalgamation of the earlier ministries of Water Resources, and Drinking Water, it hopes to harness grassroots organisations in the conservation of water at the local level. While it is a great idea of grassroots empowerment, maybe we need to look at giant engineering and construction projects that would ensure that rainfall in India’s vast coastal regions across the peninsula do not go waste, and are conserved for now, and future generations. In a world, where water shortages are going to be very real, and very scary, this will be an investment in the future.

News Reporter

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