The Thirsty Planet: An Insight Into the Growing Global Water Scarcity Problem [Part 1]

Posted on May 10, 2013 in Environment

By Pradyut Hande:

Water is truly the essence of life – a natural resource that has been and continues to be critical to our very evolution and existence. However, over the years, our well chronicled profligacy coupled with gross mismanagement fueled by detrimental developmental activities has resulted in an alarming depletion in the precious resource that is freshwater. Add to that; an ever burgeoning global population, dangerous climate change disruptions and the absence of a clear action plan; have exacerbated the global water scarcity problem.

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Let’s look at the basic statistics to begin with. 86% of the total freshwater reserves on the planet are used for agricultural purposes and food production. A further 9% is employed in industrial activities. That leaves a paltry 5% for domestic consumption. Just 5% to support a population of 7 billion inhabitants. Thus, the water scarcity issue today is a twofold conundrum – one of fundamental resource inadequacy and inequity, i.e., not only is water an increasingly scarce natural resource, but the distribution or lack thereof, of the available resources further compounds the acuity of an already dire situation.

The heart of this pressing universal concern lies in a global systemic demand and supply problem – growing populations are fueling massive demand that outstrips the available supply. Another added dimension to this problem is the huge disparity in the domestic water requirements and consumption patterns in developed economies vis a vis developing economies. Furthermore, the inequitable availability and distribution of water amongst the wealthy and impoverished strata of society within these economies – as is the case with most resources – doesn’t improve matters.

Picture this; An affluent locality in the heart of South Mumbai will mostly be guaranteed a 24/7 supply of water while the struggling inhabitants of a decrepit Central Mumbai Chawl will have to make do with a 20-30 minute daily supply (also not guaranteed during the summers). Further down the socio-economic pyramid, slum dwellers have to make their own arrangements; ranging from organising water tankers to purchasing water from bootleggers at exorbitant prices. For a city that is home to over 19 million people, the hyper-metropolis of Mumbai paints a stark image, representative of an overcrowded urban dwellings’ escalating “thirst” for limited water resources.

In such a scenario, efficient resource rationing becomes a critical factor in establishing an optimum distribution mechanism. Minimising wastage through improved supply chain logistics is also important. In such a scenario, the proactive role of the municipal corporation assumes even greater significance. The lacunae in an overburdened and under-resourced system ought not to deprive citizens of their basic right to water. These are realities that our leaders are well versed with. However, as Author Maude Barlow rightly says, “The world does not lack the knowledge about how to build a water-secure future, it lacks the political will.”

(This is the first in a three part series aimed at addressing critical aspects of the global water scarcity problem.)

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