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India's Water Quandary: A Call to Action By adopting sustainable water management practices and fostering a culture of conservation, we can ensure a future where this precious resource nourishes generations to come

By Paul Abraham

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Water, the elixir of life, is becoming an increasingly scarce resource in India. India is home to only 4% of world's fresh-water supply but supports 18% of world's human inhabitants. From parched farmlands to parched throats, the water crisis is a looming threat impacting millions across the nation. In fact, government of India's own think-tank, the Niti Aayog has stated that India's over-exploitation of groundwater is leading to "the worst water crisis in its history" This alarming situation demands immediate action on multiple fronts, from government policy to individual responsibility!!

A Perfect Storm:

India's water woes are a confluence of several factors. Declining rainfall, particularly in the monsoon season, has left reservoirs at critically low levels. Chennai, for instance, faced a severe water crisis in January 2023, with reservoirs reaching "zero storage." The city relied on water tankers and strict rationing to meet its daily needs. Cities like Bangalore, Indore, Pune are increasingly in the news for dependence on tanker mafia for regular water supply. This crisis, though extreme, is a stark reminder of the vulnerability of urban centers.

Beyond the Cities:

The agricultural sector, the backbone of India's economy, is equally impacted. In Maharashtra, a major agricultural state, farmers witnessed consecutive droughts in 2022 and 2023, leading to crop failures and financial hardship. Similarly, in March 2023, Karnataka saw protests erupt as water disputes between the state and its neighbors intensified. These conflicts highlight the strain on water resources as competition between agriculture, industry, and domestic use rises.

Pollution's Poisonous Touch:

While scarcity is a significant concern, water quality is another pressing issue. Industrial effluents and agricultural runoff pollute rivers and groundwater, making them unusable for drinking or irrigation. The Ganges, a revered river, is heavily polluted, endangering not only human health but also the delicate ecological balance.

Climate Change: The Unseen Culprit:

Climate change further exacerbates the crisis. Rising temperatures lead to increased evaporation, reducing water availability. Erratic weather patterns with intense rainfall events followed by long dry spells disrupt natural water cycles. The Himalayan glaciers, vital sources of freshwater for major rivers, are also receding at an alarming rate.

A City on the Brink: Bengaluru's Woes

Adding to the national woes, Bengaluru, India's IT capital, is facing an unprecedented water crisis in March 2024. The city, known for its booming tech industry, is grappling with rapidly depleting groundwater reserves. This is due to a combination of factors, including:

1. Unchecked Urbanization: The city's rapid growth has outpaced its water infrastructure development. Increased demand coupled with shrinking resources has created a critical imbalance.

2. Dependence on Borewells: Many areas rely heavily on borewells for water. However, with falling water tables, many borewells have dried up, leaving residents scrambling for alternatives.

3. Insufficient Cauvery Water Supply: The Cauvery River, a primary source of water for Bengaluru, is facing its own challenges due to disputes with neighbouring states. This has resulted in a decrease in the city's allocated water share.

The crisis has had a ripple effect across Bengaluru. Residents are facing water cuts, with some areas receiving water only for a few hours a day. The situation has impacted essential services like hospitals and sanitation. Water tanker prices have skyrocketed, putting a financial strain on many households.

A Call to Action:

This multifaceted crisis demands a multipronged strategy! Here are some crucial steps:

Government Intervention:

1. Investment in Water Infrastructure: Upgrading water distribution networks to minimize leakage, investing in rainwater harvesting structures, and building efficient canal systems are essential.

2. Sustainable Water Management: Promoting water-efficient agricultural practices like drip irrigation and enacting stricter regulations to control water pollution from industries are crucial.

3. Interstate Water Sharing Agreements: Negotiating fair and transparent agreements for water sharing between states is vital to avoid conflicts.

4. Free Electricity & water in Agriculture: Free electricity results in massive depletion of Ground-water and thus Most state governments in India are now exploring ways to reduce the same through measures like volumetric pricing, Direct Benefit Transfer and providing incentives for implementing measures that save water.

5. Reviewing Cropping patterns: Cropping patterns need to be reviewed across India and correlate them to the hydrology zones and water availability whether groundwater or riverine sources.

Community and Individual Responsibility:

1. Public Awareness Campaigns: Educating the public on the importance of water conservation and promoting responsible water use is key.

2. Community-led Initiatives: Rainwater harvesting at the local level, reviving traditional water conservation practices, and promoting wastewater treatment can have a significant impact.

3. Individual Responsibility: Simple changes in daily habits, like fixing leaky faucets, taking shorter showers, and opting for water-efficient appliances, can collectively make a difference.

The Way Forward:

India's water crisis is a challenge that can't be ignored. Through collaborative efforts, innovation, and a shift in mindset, we can navigate this quandary. By adopting sustainable water management practices and fostering a culture of conservation, we can ensure a future where this precious resource nourishes generations to come. Let's turn this call to action into a collective movement to secure India's water future.

Paul Abraham

President, Hinduja Foundation

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