By Dr. Amrit Patel:
Water is a natural phenomenon and is the life line for human survival and a critical material foundation for sustainable social and economic development. Water supports health and livelihoods, grows food, powers industry and cools generating plants and these different uses can no longer be seen in isolation from each other. Unless these competing needs are balanced, water security will remain elusive, undermining development gains and the quality of millions of people in India, especially poor. Its renewable availability is finite and vulnerable to depletion and degradation. Water for Life Decade [2005-15] and the World Water Day being held on March 22 every year has significance to create awareness among all stakeholders that water is finite, scarce, costly and precious and, therefore, should be efficiently managed for country’s sustainable development.
According to the World Resources, a publication of UN Environment Program “the world’s thrust for water is likely to become one of the most pressing resource issues of the 21st century”. A variety of issues need focused attention such as climate change, trans-boundary waters, water-related risk management, managing and protecting water resources, investment in water research, development and management. Future of water resources ‘does not only rest on technological progress, but also and mostly on political commitments’. An effective consultation, cooperation and coordination among technocrats, policy makers, local authorities, research institutes, governments and water users for sustainable water development is necessary.
Participants of World Water Council in March 2009 in Istanbul recognized that water is an increasingly vital resource in the 21st century, when the world is challenged by overpopulation, climate change, ecosystem collapse, urbanization, consumption pattern changes and financial crisis.
Food security: In developing countries including India, drought is ranked as the most common cause of severe food shortages, responsible for more deaths than any other natural disaster over the last century. The lack of sustainable access to water can undermine food security and add to resource tensions, which potentially lead to conflict. Food security entails access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods. Water deeply impacts global food security due to its role in agricultural production and overall health. The United Nations had made food security the focus of the World Water Day in 2012 because of rising food insecurity worldwide stemming from increasingly strained resources, volatile food prices, erratic weather conditions and deepening malnourishment. Today, seven billion people must be fed; by 2050, two billion more people are expected. Lack of water contributes to famine and undernourishment. Erratic rainfall, floods and droughts can cause temporary food shortages and even food emergencies. Water is also essential for animals; livestock deaths due to lack of water can cause substantial loss of livelihood for families. Climate change, being associated with higher global temperatures and increasingly erratic climate patterns, such as droughts, tornadoes, cyclones and floods, can severely impact the availability and distribution of rainfall, snowmelt, river flows and groundwater. Climate-related disasters can disrupt water supplies, cause deterioration of water quality, destroy agriculture sources and cripple infrastructure. Flooding in increasingly over-populated urban areas and coastal cities has caused severe displacement in vulnerable regions worldwide.
Indian Scenario: India’s population is 15% of the world’s population but has only about 4% of the world’s fresh water resources. Much of these are unevenly distributed. Average annual rainfall in the country is about 1,170 mm, which corresponds to an annual precipitation [including snowfall] of 4,000 billion cubic meters [BCM]. Nearly 75% of this [3000bcm] occurs during the monsoon season, confined generally to 3-4 months [June to September] a year. According to the Planning Commission, India has so far created a total of about 225 billion cubic meters [BCM] of surface storage capacity. However, per capita storage capacity in India at 190 cubic meters is very less compared to USA [5,961], Australia [4,717], Brazil [3,388] and China [2,486]. This necessitates creation of large storage facilities for maximum utilization of the run-off.
Water availability: Though the average water availability in India remains more or less fixed according to the natural hydraulic cycle, per capita availability is reducing progressively owning to the increasing population. In 1991, the average figure was around 2,200 cubic meters [cm], which has fallen to about 1829 cm. It may further go down to about 1340 cm and 1140 cm a year by 2025 and 2050 respectively. The situation in some of the river basins is worrisome. According to international agencies, any region with per capita water availability of less than 1700 cm is considered ‘water stressed’ and those with less than 1000 cm ‘water scarce’. Already six river basins of the country fall in the ‘water scarce’ category, and five more basins are likely to be ‘water scarce’ during 2025-50. Only 3-4 basins will be ‘water sufficient’. Water availability both in quantity and quality has been on the decline over the past 3-4 decades because of gross mismanagement of the available water resources and environmental degradation. Our Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh on August 18, 2009 on the opening day of the conference of Environment Ministers said, ‘Climate change is threatening our ecosystems; water scarcity is becoming a way of life and pollution is a growing threat to our health and habitat’. He further expressed his concern that ‘rivers all over India are still being degraded’. Not only per capita availability of water in the country is already low but also there is enormous wastage, growing pollution and contamination of surface as well as groundwater.