Thirsty Throats: Water Crisis In India

Posted on February 2, 2010 in Society

Avnish Gaurav:

The paucity of fresh water globally is one of the many forgotten topics today. There have been silent conflicts and tensions over water, widespread deaths due to polluted water are quite rampant and possibilities of an imminent war over water not being ruled out. In our attempt to garner public opinion towards this potentially alarming issue, we present a series on water crisis “THIRSTY THROATS”; India being our first subject of analysis.

India and China, being the two highest flying economies of the time; any development – positive or negative in this part of the world is likely to affect the entire globe in future. The water shortage is so severe that in India and China an epidemic can wipe out 40% of the population. The devastation will be one of its kinds, one that has not been known in any documented history of our civilizations.

The statistics speak out for themselves. According to the 2001 Census, only 68.2 per cent of households in the country had access to safe drinking water. Experts say, as of now, 50 per cent of the villages have no source of protected drinking water. In a list of 122 countries rated on the quality of potable drinking water, India ranked a lowly 120. With 1.2 billion people to feed, it is estimated that by 2020, India will become an even more water-stressed nation. The availability of water per person per annum has been reduced from 6500 cubic meters to 2500 cubic meters. The World Bank’s State of India Environment reports, the per capita drinking water availability in the country has fallen by about 15-20 per cent over the past two decades. World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. In India, diarrhoea alone causes more than 1,600 deaths daily–the same as if eight 200-person jumbo-jets crashed to the ground each day.

Meanwhile, India’s supply of water is rapidly dwindling due primarily to mismanagement of water resources. India’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. India’s climate is not particularly dry, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution. In managing water resources, the Indian government must balance competing demands between urban and rural, rich and poor, the economy and the environment.

“There will be constant competition over water, between farming families and urban dwellers, environmental conservationists and industrialists, minorities living off natural resources and entrepreneurs seeking to commodify the resources base for commercial gain”

-UNICEF report on Indian water

As per the World Watch Institute, India suffers from massive regional variations in its water situation. Nearly one third of the country is drought prone, while one fourth of the country is prone to floods and surface water logging after normal monsoons. Depletion of underground water is making agriculture more and more dependent on government subsidies. There were 16,196 farmer suicide in India in 2008.In regions like Punjab 375 foot-deep bore well has to be dug to get underground water. The shallower wells dug to cut costs, are found to be affected by fluoride, arsenic, iron, salt or microbial contamination. In many States, especially Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal, this is a significant concern.

Nothing is impossible in this world. If depletion of ozone layer can be reversed, if Netherlands can save itself from rising sea levels, then why can’t India solve its water crisis? What we need is a change of our mindset and a bit of foresightedness. Initiatives are in the offing, but they are merely a formality as of now.

Population and Natural Resources have a direct connection. Even a country with high natural resources and high population will start finishing its resources at a faster pace. And on top of it, at the time when the whole world is worried of resources and our future generations, the casual non-serious approach seems as ignorant a deed as a foolish person inviting his own death. With increasing food prices, escalating farmers’ suicide and internal disturbances in India, the issue has virtually got pushed into the background.

An already bleak reality seems even grimmer…