Water stress poses serious threat to people - GulfToday

Water stress poses serious threat to people

Meena Janardhan

Writer/Editor/Consultant. She has over 25 years of experience in the fields of environmental journalism and publishing.

Drinking Water

A report says that 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) has listed India among the 17 countries, home to one-quarter of the world’s population, which face extremely high water stress. India has 18% of the world’s population but only 4% of the global freshwater resources — being an agrarian economy, it is the world’s largest extractor of groundwater. This makes India one of the world’s 17 ‘extremely water-stressed’ countries. The WRI has ranked countries by their water stress and categorized them in five different levels: extremely high, high, medium-high, low-medium, and low baseline water stress.

Data from WRI’s Aqueduct tools reveal that in these countries irrigated agriculture, industries and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year. 44 countries, home to one-third of the world, face “high” levels of stress, where on average more than 40% of available supply is withdrawn every year. Such a narrow gap between supply and demand leaves countries vulnerable to fluctuations like droughts or increased water withdrawals, which is why more and more communities facing their own “Day Zeros” and other crises. Through new hydrological models, the WRI found that water withdrawals globally have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand – and they show no signs of slowing down.

As a report by Earth.org points out, heatwaves are causing further water shortages. Even though water tankers are keeping communities hydrated, supply is not enough to cover the needs of all residents. But heat is not the only factor. Over 85% of India’s fresh water is used in agriculture. This has led to a crisis in several states, including Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh. The indiscriminate use of water for irrigation, coupled with the absence of conservation efforts and the huge policy gap in managing water resources has left over 10% of the country’s water bodies in rural areas redundant.

A recent report of NITI Ayog on groundwater level says 21 Indian cities — including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad — will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting around 100 million people. It also says that 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030.

The Earth.org report warns that India’s unprecedented urban expansion and economic growth in recent years comes with huge environmental costs. Besides its air, the country’s waterways have become extremely polluted, with around 70% of surface water estimated to be unfit for consumption. Illegal dumping of raw sewage, silt, and garbage into rivers and lakes severely contaminates India’s waters, made worse by the near-total absence of pipe planning and an inadequate waste management system. Every day, a staggering 40 million litres of wastewater enter rivers and other water bodies. Of these, only a tiny fraction is adequately treated due to a lack of adequate infrastructure. In middle-income countries like India, water pollution can account for the loss of up to half of GDP growth, according to the World Bank.

The report adds that water pollution costs the Indian government between $6.7 and $7.7 billion a year and is associated with a 9% drop in agricultural revenues as well as a 16% decrease in downstream agricultural yields. Besides affecting humans, with nearly 40 million Indians suffering from waterborne diseases and nearly 400,000 fatalities each year, water pollution also damages crops, as infectious bacteria and diseases in the water used for irrigation prevent them from growing. Inevitably, freshwater biodiversity is also severely damaged. The country has started addressing the issue by taking steps to improve the quality of its water source, often with the help of local startups. One strategy involves the construction of water treatment plants that rely on techniques such as flocculation, skimming, and filtration to remove most toxic chemicals from the water.

A Mongabay-India commentary states that urban authorities in India, particularly in the capital Delhi, are facing serious challenges in addressing the water demand and water supply augmentation for future. The situation can be improved by adopting tools and mechanisms such as water conservation, water efficient practices, improved irrigation practices, wastewater treatment and recycling, benchmarking of water use for different sectors and use of economic instruments. Redesigning of the water tariffs should be considered in order to ameliorate water access to the lower income households so that their basic water needs are covered.

As the WRI report points out, water stress poses serious threats to human lives, livelihoods and business stability. It’s poised to worsen unless countries act: population growth, socioeconomic development and urbanization are increasing water demands, while climate change can make precipitation and demand more variable.  

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