At the beginning of this year, many of you might have read about Cape Town’s severe drought crisis.
Their situation was so bad that water scarcity forced the city’s officials to plan for Day Zero – the day all the water supply would be cut off for all households and offices. In addition to this, the water usage limit of the residents was to be restricted to 50 litres per day to save existing water resources. Luckily, Day Zero was called off when major rain predictions were made for the city.
But, honestly, how many more times are we going to get lucky? This question has bothered me ever since I read about South Africa’s water crisis.
I mean, can you and I imagine living like that? Are we prepared for such a scenario in the near future? Most importantly, do we want such a future knowingly when all the knowledge to save water is available with us right now?
True, we have heard of many similar incidents in the past, but a recent estimation in the 2018 edition of the United Nations World Water Development Report alarmed me more than ever. It stated that some 5 billion people would face a water crisis by 2050. The reasons for the same are not new to me and you but they should be enough for us to take action and protect the world’s depleting water resources immediately.
This report stated that climate change, shifting weather patterns, increase in demand for water along with depleting water resources etc. are all to blame. But where does this blame really come from?
The answer is obvious.
Now, let’s come to India for a minute, and take the example of the recent water crisis in Shimla.
Was it a new occurrence in our country? No. Then why should we pay heed now? Because the time to continue living our lives as if nothing can affect us is long gone!
Just as humans have evolved over time, our environment and other natural resources have changed too. But nature simply cannot recharge or replenish itself if we don’t do our part in protecting it.
For instance, Shimla city in the 17th – 18th century was built for a capacity of some 25,000 people. Today, the city with a permanent population of almost two lakh people and a floating tourist population of another lakh is struggling to provide water. In fact, this was the struggle last month. With such a population, the city requires 45 MLD (million litres per day) but is currently getting only 22-23 MLD. In such a scenario, it is obvious that everyone has been affected, including hospitals, schools, colleges, offices and hotels. Household activities such as bathing, washing clothes, cooking etc. also have had to be regulated by residents.
With a city like Shimla, which had natural water springs and some 5-6 major water sources like Gumma, Giri, Ashwini Khan, this kind of water crisis should have ideally not arisen.
Over the years, unplanned construction, infrastructure development along with population growth and constant usage of water resources without ensuring sustainability have brought about such a situation.
True, we can still depend on rainfall but monsoons have become unpredictable in many areas due to climate change. While officials in Shimla have attributed the shortage of water to a deficit in rain and snowfall, we know the reason lies deeper than that. The answer is very simple. We cannot depend on nature if we don’t nurture it.
After all, Shimla is not the only city that faces a water crisis. Different parts of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan are also going through similar dry spells. Many experts have opined that several hill stations and metro cities are likely to face severe dry episodes in the next 10 years, especially cities with a major dependence on groundwater resources.
Overall, water levels in India’s major reservoirs have declined by 10% this year, and Himachal Pradesh alone has reported its reservoir levels to be 50% below normal. The states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttarakhand have also faced similar shortage with reservoir levels being less than 50% of normal levels. Punjab, Karnataka and Gujarat have 40% lesser water in reservoirs.
Water pollution, shortage of groundwater, changing monsoon patterns, droughts, flash floods, intense heat wave conditions etc. all have a major role to play in the crisis we’re facing. The recent floods of Chennai, Bangalore, Assam, Mumbai, and the droughts in Maharashtra are still fresh in our minds. When we live in a water-stressed country, such natural disasters just add on to human, animal, plant and economic loss across sectors.
Therefore, it wouldn’t hurt you or me if we started respecting our natural resources now more than ever and worked collectively to sustain what’s left of them.
Climate change is real and experts have already forecasted extreme weather events from major floods to frequent drought, worldwide.
Now, even though this is a reality faced by many cities in India, the silver lining is that much can be done with active planning and ownership. This includes the adoption of sustainable water practices such as promoting reuse of treated wastewater, rainwater harvesting, adequate maintenance of catchment areas or planting more green cover.
For that matter, nature-based solutions (NBS) are also an interesting approach to deal with future water crises. It is nothing but the use of certain activities that help restore existing water resources. It is definitely a useful intervention, especially in the agriculture sector.
The UN World Water Development Report also talks of NBS through restructured agricultural policies inclusive of mandatory sustainable farming practices, adoption of a conservation-focused agriculture model with enhanced use of rainwater, increased crop rotation etc. The promotion of green infrastructure for homes and offices is another viable solution which could greatly help cities with high pollution levels. Green infrastructure can include eco-friendly walls like bamboo or mud bricks, terrace and balcony gardens, drainage systems with fitted recycling mechanisms, etc.
Currently, all of us need to understand the relevance of making such lifestyle changes. And the best start to all of this is present in our own homes, where we have the freedom to do our bit and contribute to saving water. We can curb excessive use of water, utilise rainwater for gardening or for washing our car, harvest rainwater in offices, residential areas etc. This can further help in maintaining the existing supply of any city’s water resources that mostly depend on reservoirs.
Whatever be the method, it’s going to take all our combined efforts to adopt the best sustainable practices today and ensure a peaceful and water scarcity free future for an entire generation tomorrow.