Water shortage looms in India
A striking fact about water in India is the lack of reliable data
about all its aspects: total potential, available supply and demand
India faces serious challenges to sustain its water resources as
agriculture, industry and domestic sectors compete with each other for
the scarce resource. The situation is exacerbated by poor water
management practices, over-extraction of surface and groundwater and
India is the largest consumer of groundwater in the world
(Source: Mohd Shefar)
Unfortunately, there is a lack of reliable data about the total
potential of water resources and supply and demand of water.
Rainfall, India's primary source of freshwater, is estimated to be
4,000 billion cubic metre (BCM), but it varies widely across states,
seasons and years. The Planning Commission's Steering Committee on water
resources for the 11th Five Year Plan reported that India's water
resources potential is 1,869 BCM, including groundwater.
This is when "utilisable" water resources have been assessed at 1,123
BCM, of which 690 BCM are from surface water and 433 BCM from
groundwater. Besides, the surface water estimates have remained
unchanged for several decades - the National Agricultural Commission
report in 1976 and subsequent estimates by the Central Water Commission
in 1988 and 2001 have mentioned this number. But Planning Commission's
working group for the 12th Plan said it failed to locate any document
explaining the basis for the estimate.
Availability: signs of stress
Assuming the availability of 1,869 BCM to be accurate, India will
move from a water-adequate nation (per capita availability of over 1,700
cu m/year) to a water-scarce one (per capita availability of less than
1,000 cu m/year) by 2025. Nine of 20 river basins, supporting 200
million people, are facing water shortage.
Groundwater is another area of crisis. India is heavily dependent on
groundwater and is the largest consumer of groundwater in the world.
The Central Groundwater Board in its 2012-13 yearbook reports that
India drew 243 BCM of groundwater in 2009, which is 61 per cent of the
country's net available groundwater. With no dedicated national
groundwater management program, groundwater stores are being depleted at
rates faster than they can be replenished.
Nationally, 27 per cent of the blocks are classified as semi-critical
or worse (withdrawal in excess of 70 per cent of availability).
Northwest states draw 127-170 per cent of the available groundwater.
Increased water consumption results in higher water discharge,
leading to degradation in water quality. Today, industries are the main
cause of water pollution.
Demand: growing pains
Let's first consider the story of evolving water needs as India
transforms from a country with vast rural population dependent on
agriculture to one that is relatively urban and industrialised. About 70
per cent of Indians live in rural areas. Agriculture needs account for
88 per cent of total water consumption, while industrial use and
domestic water consumption by urban residents account for the balance 12
per cent of usage.
The situation in rich industrialised countries is the reverse.
However, as India develops, it is unlikely to urbanise and industrialise
to the same extent as the developed world. Around half of India's
population is expected to remain rural by 2050 for whom agriculture will
be the mainstay.
Water for irrigation will remain a significant contributor to the
country's total water needs. Nevertheless, rising urbanisation will
result in increased domestic water consumption: urban dwellers use far
more water than rural folks on a per capita basis. Industrial water
needs will also increase in line with GDP increases. India's current
water policy rightly accords priority to domestic water.
Agriculture needs will also remain important to feed the growing
population and support livelihoods of half the country.
- Down To Earth