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Water Scarcity:BETTER MANAGEMENT IMPERATIVE, by Dhurjati Mukherjee, 26 February 2010 Print E-mail

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New Delhi, 26 February 2010

Water Scarcity



By Dhurjati Mukherjee

Water demand will be the highest in the world in the next two decades and the crisis is expected to get worse. As far as India is concerned, demand for water will double by the year 2030 from 700 billion cubic metres to 1498 billion cubic metres, according to the study by the Water Resources Group, released recently. The biggest deficits will be in the most populous river basins – Ganga, Krishna and Indus. The demand is nearly double of China’s projected 818 billion cubic metres demand. 

The majority of the requirement, around 80 per cent, will be in agriculture as farmers plant more rice, wheat and sugar to feed the country’s growing population. The shortfall can be prevented, the report pointed out, by adopting basic conservation measures, specially in the agricultural sector. Drip irrigation, where a pipe delivers water directly to plant roots rather than over the field, and no-till farming could conserve water to meet the future demand. It needs to be pointed out here that conservation technology which exists in the country should be put to proper use and around 40 per cent wastage averted.


The study estimates that it would cost around $ 6 billion (Rs27,000 crores) to implement enough water conservation strategies to meet the projected demand. But since agricultural income could increase to $ 83 billion (Rs385,950 crores) by 2030, water management and wastage control would have to be given top priority.


The dwindling availability of water in most parts of the world has become quite severe and certain experts have talked about ‘water wars’ taking place in the coming years. In India, the water crisis has now become a reality with per capita availability declining from 5150 cubic metres in 1947 to 2200 cubic metres in 2000 and is expected to be anything around 1600 cubic metres by 2015-16. In most parts of the country, the crisis is quite severe and effective conservation measures and stoppage of water wastage has yet to be implemented in all seriousness.  

Apart from this, unrestricted groundwater usage, stimulated by electricity supplies below cost or even free in some States has led to groundwater depletion, diversion to water intensive crops and growing salinity of land. There is no national watershed development programme, checking dams, irrigation canals and judicious water pricing. Productivity for most crops are falling and climate change may make matters worse as water scarcity looms large.


Meanwhile, the issue of the major rivers drying up in the country has emerged as a major issue. Moreover both the Ganga and the Yamuna have become extremely polluted. As regards the Yamuna is concerned the Supreme Court had set three deadlines – 1999, 2003 and 2005 – for the authorities concerned to ensure the water was able to meet the lowest potable standards but nothing tangible has been achieved though Rs 1800 crores has been spent on various schemes.


As per the Ganga Action Plan (GAP), formulated way back in 1985, the water was to be kept clean by setting up primary treatment plants for treatment of tanneries of all types of sewage, including water flowing from tanneries and industrial effluent from 29 major and 23 small cities as well as 48 towns from Uttarakhand to West Bengal. But the Comptroller and Auditor General had taken a poor view of the Clean Ganga initiative as he thought that Rs 1000 crores had gone down the drain without any tangible improvement in the river’s water quality. According to reliable reports, nearly 2600 million litres of untreated sewage and effluent get into the Ganga daily out of which not more than 20-30 per cent gets treated. 


The issue of water management and keeping the water bodies clean are no doubt a big challenge before the country. It is indeed quite strange that 19 to 20 per cent of the population in the country still do not have access to potable water for drinking. Thus groundwater contamination has to be resolved by careful analysis of actual groundwater conditions followed by accurately positioned monitoring boreholes to provide a detailed view of the spatial distribution of the pollutant. Once the extent of pollution is assessed, an action plan needs to be evolved to control the sources of pollution and take necessary clean-up measures though, however, it would be necessary to have a clear understanding of the geology of the region.


It is in this context that the reported decision of the Government to set aside Rs 4000 crores for the Repair, Renovation & Restoration (RRR) Scheme, a joint Centre-state project to restore and/or increase the capacities of lakes and ponds and freshen their water, assumes significance. It is expected to reduce water shortage and various types of illness caused by the use of dirty and contaminated water.


The first-ever census of the country’s water bodies, believed to number more than 13 lakh, is expected to be completed by the middle of this year and about one lakh chosen for restoration in the first phase, according to sources in the water resource ministry. Although the census will cover every water body, only public ones will be restored and this task would have to be carried out by the panchayats and the municipalities.


The restoration job will primarily include de-silting, repair of the conveyance system (through which the water is replenished), strengthening of banks, prevention of soil erosion and the like. It would be better if the non-governmental organizations working in areas of scientific development and environment and having expertise in the field of water and sanitation are entrusted this task by the panchayats.


It is a well-known fact that community water bodies are significant to the preservation of ecology and well-being of the users. Community participation in cleaning these bodies and preservation and maintenance of its hygienic content can be possible only if the NGOs and CBOs wholeheartedly join this campaign. This would also ensure that water borne, water-based and water-related diseases are brought down in the community as clean water is a sure and tested remedy for good health.--- INFA    

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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