“After all, we are all going to pay a heavy price when the water runs out. Why not pay a reasonable cost for its proper management to avoid that situation?” -Mridula Ramesh, a climate change fighter
At a time when the north eastern part of the country is facing severe flash floods that have taken 17 lives till now, a recent report by a NITI Aayog think tank shows that the country is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history. 600 million Indians are facing high to extreme water stress. Critical groundwater resources – which account for 40% of our water supply – are being depleted at unsustainable rates. Adding fuel to fire is the increasing frequency of droughts which create severe problem for rain dependent farmers amounting to about 53% of agriculture in India.
The present situation is best described in the words of Samuel Taylor- water, water everywhere, nor a drop to drink. As per the report, seventy five percent of the households do not have drinking water on premises. When water is available, it is likely to be contaminated (up to 70% of our water supply), resulting in nearly 200,000 deaths each year. India ranks 120 out of 122 countries on water quality index.
The numbers are terrifying with best estimates indicating that India’s water demand will exceed supply by a factor of two by 2030, with severe water scarcity on the horizon for hundreds of millions. 40% of the population will have no access to drinking water by 2030 and twenty one cities including Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad running out of ground water by 2020 affecting 100 million people. Further, the water crisis would also result into loss of 6% GDP by 2050.
Worsening the situation are the interstate water sharing disagreements. Interstate disagreements, the report states, are on the rise with seven major disputes currently raging, pointing to the fact that limited frameworks and institutions are in place for national water governance. Data systems related to water in the country are limited in their coverage, robustness, and efficiency.
To counter this situation, NITI Aayog has developed the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) to enable effective water management in Indian states in the face of this growing crisis. Most states in the index have scores below 50 which need to improve their water resources management practices. Encouragingly, water scarce states that have suffered severe droughts in recent past are leaders. Worryingly, the low performers on the Water Index are home to ~50% of the country’s population highlighting the significant water risk faced by the country. These comprised of populous northern states which are home to over 600 million people.
The combination of rapidly declining groundwater levels and limited policy action is likely to result into a significant food security risk for the country going forward. The NITI Aayog’s index is comprehensive scorecard for identifying, targeting, and solving problems in the water sector across the country which the government needs to work on by boosting cooperation at a federal and inter-state level to prevent the country’s taps from running dry.