Water Crisis and Food Security amidst Climate Change in Indian Context: some practical rec

Posted by Nasiruddin Nasir
January 23, 2018

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As we entered in 21st century, we began recognizing and visibly perceiving impact of climate change happening worldwide. India remains no more unaffected. The phenomenon of climate change is grappling from all around in various forms likes incidences of heat waves, cold waves, bursting of clouds, flash rain and flooding, unpredictable rain, heavy rain destroying crops and productions and many more to count. The situation is affecting lives and economics so adversely that communities are not able to cope which results in increasing suicide, migration due to loss of livelihood and turmoil in political and environmental situations. The need of the hour is to make communities resilient and adaptive to face the challenges along with bold strategies need to be adopted and facilitated in order to promote environmental sustainability and sustainable development.

Climate change is one of the most noteworthy phenomena in the 21st century, which has gained a lot of attention in recent times. It has affected all dimensions of natural and managed ecosystems, from food and energy security to water environment. The relationship between water, agriculture and climate is a significant one. More and more, this relationship is falling out of balance and jeopardizing food and water security. The continuous rise of earth’s temperature poses a significant impact on water resources and therefore harnesses the potential for devastating effects on agriculture and food security leading to intensifying poverty.


India is home to over one billion people and projected to increase to 1.7 billion by 2050, it is recognised as one among most affected countries in the subcontinent from climate change. Post-independence, the industrialisation and urbanisation has taken place rapidly which has impacted land use pattern adversely and created a huge increase in the demand for water. More than half of India still resides in rural areas and depends on agriculture for its food consumption and overall economy. India could not maintain pace in efficient water resource management, sustainable practices of agriculture, which has led to deterioration in water quality, posed water conservation challenges, decrease water supply, and imbalance in hydrological cycle and that has subsequently altered most of India’s river basins due to land use change, inter–basin transfers, irrigation and drainage. The water use pattern has drastically changed throughout the country and more and more farmers, industries; cities rely on ground water resources. The exponential exploitation of ground water has brought India at a stage where entire country is experiencing depletion in ground water.


Water and agriculture sectors in India are largely dependent on monsoon rainfall. The two key sources of fresh water are groundwater and surface water; of these, the river basins represent the main source of fresh water in the Indian subcontinent. India is endowed with a river system involving over twenty major rivers with many tributaries. A warmer climate will enhance the hydrological cycle, which implies higher rates of evaporation, and a greater proportion of liquid precipitation compared with solid precipitation; these physical mechanisms, associated with potential changes in precipitation amount and seasonality, will affect soil moisture, groundwater reserves and the frequency of floods or droughts. Doubled with unsustainable practices, water resources have come under increasing pressure and resulted in droughts.

In addition to draughts in many regions, others areas also experience flash floods, heavy rains that become devastating, uncontrollable and have a  huge socio-economic impact. There are also increased incidences of cloud burst, an recent example would be one that happened in Uttrakhand in 2008-9 which flashed away several communities and an resulted in unaccounted death toll. Likewise, earthquakes are becoming frequent phenomenon. The metros like Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata are more susceptible to such incidences and the costs incurred will be irreparable. Moreover, flash fires from some parts like West Bengal have been reported.

In the year 1987 and 2002-2003, droughts affected more than half of India’s crop area that led to a huge fall in crop production and its value chain. In some areas, the draughts have been experienced more frequently for example in north-western India, Jharkhand, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. Crop yields are expected to fall significantly because of extreme heat by the 2040s. More than 60% of India’s agriculture is rain-fed, making the country highly dependent on groundwater. The ground water exploitation is very high even without climate change; 15% of India’s groundwater resources are overexploited. Although it is not easy to predict future ground water levels,falling water tables can be expected to reduce further on account of increasing demand for water from a growing population, more affluent life styles, as well as from the services sector and industry. In Yamuna, the level of ground water has been depleting faster, increasing tension for water supply needs of over 20 million population and industries that are solely dependent on water from Yamuna..

India like other countries has been witnessing severe outcomes as a result of climate change. For example, India has experienced scorching heat waves since last few years, which have even caused several hundred deaths in states like Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Orrisa. In addition, the weather pattern has been quite unpredictable in some parts of India like Rajasthan where farmers had heavy set back causing loss of crops, production and hundreds of lives. Changes in climatic conditions are affecting demand, supply and water quality. In regions that are currently sensitive to water stress (arid and semi–arid regions of India), any shortfall in water supply will enhance competition for water use for a wide range of economic, social and environmental applications. The growing population will heighten demand for irrigation and perhaps industrialization at the expense of drinking water. Disputes over water resources may well be a significant social consequence in an environment degraded by pollution and stressed by climate change.

At the global level, India, particularly its coastal, arid and semi-arid zones are expected to be highly impacted by the climate change phenomenon. The world is optimistic about India as its policies and strategies towards mitigating the impact of climate change look promising. . India needs to adopt strategies conducive to local environment, which are adaptable by local communities and rethink its development priorities in view of the alarming situation of climate change.

India needs to seriously balance out its industrialisation, urbanisation and growth amidst severe poverty and climate change situation. Industrialisation being rapid and uncontrolled; India requires promoting more environment friendly and sustainable industries with less carbon emission that least environmental impact. At the part of urbanisation, India needs to focus on sustainable housing with technological measures sustaining infrastructure during events of earthquakes and fires. Since, India would be prone to facing acute water problem, it requires to promote water conservation, soil and moisture conservation and watershed development. In addition, it requires promoting less water intensive industries. Rainwater harvesting practices require much more emphasis and regulation on ground water exploitation. In order to tackle unavoidable situations like flood, fire or earthquake government needs to strengthen its disaster management programs and seek local solutions along with making communities resilient to adverse situations. Since poverty and lack of nutrition is another problem grappling a country like India where most of the population is poor, programs for nutritional security and food security needs to be promoted.

Promoting sustainable industries, which may have more positive environmental impact along with improved transportation, are necessary. Cycling can be promoted at local level rather than motor bikes & cars, encouraging using public transportation would also have positive impact on environment. The corporations, small and medium industries may also adopt Work from home policy that will help lessening travel so will contribute in healthy environment. Micro measures like sustainable crop residual management, organic farming, and water conservation needs to be greatly promoted to maximize the environment friendly practice.

Finally, voluntary action needs to be promoted at every level and healthy life-style through sustainable consumption and proper management of solid liquid waste and safe disposal should be encouraged in urban context.

If we are really concern for our planet and wish a sustainable life for our generations yet to come a strong resolve from each of us will help in turning the tide of climate change and ensuring food and water security the most crucial need to exist and sustain life.


Nasiruddin is development sector professional with expertise in sustainable development, WASH, corporate social responsibility and sustainability. Nasiruddin is presently associated with WaterAid India.

Disclaimer: the views presented in this paper is solely of the author, it does not refelect or represent view of the organisation is he associated with.

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