Our Response To The Ongoing Water Crisis Is Leading India Further Into Dire Straits

The world’s second-most populous country is running out of water. India is facing one of its major and most serious water crisis. According to the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) released by the NITI Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and others) are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access for 100 million people.

However, 12% of India’s population is already living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario. The CWMI report also states that by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP.

After two consecutive years of weak monsoons, 330 million people — a quarter of the country’s population — are affected by a severe drought. According to India Meteorological Department (IMD)’s data, October 2018 was the driest month for the country since 1976. In fact, the rainfall for the month was even lower than that drought years.

Although, the actual deficit on last monsoon was modest and barely 10%. But, the past monsoon rainfall (October – December 2018) has recorded as 44% deficit. Vidarbha, Marathwada and central Maharashtra have been facing a drought-like situation, with water levels in reservoirs reaching extremely low levels. The deficit is in these areas likely 84% to 88%. This low-rain and no-rain situation is resulted a worst water crisis in its history.

What Is A Water Crisis?

A water crisis generally means the insufficient availability of drinking water, lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region.  A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region’s demand. Water crisis can be a result of two of reasons:

a) absolute reasons and

b) economic reasons.

Absolute reasons result in inadequate natural water resources to supply a region’s demand. On the other hand, economic reasons result in poor management of the sufficient available of water resources.

The Consequences Of A Water Crisis

According to the NITI Aayog report, India’s water crisis is more dire than imagined:

1) 600 million people are dealing with high to extreme water shortage.

2) An average of 200,000 Indian lives is lost every year due to inadequate supply or contamination of water.

3) About 75% of households do not have drinking water at home, 84% rural households do not have piped water access, and 70% of India’s water is contaminated, with the country currently ranked 120 among 122 in the water quality index.

4) India is the world’s biggest groundwater extractor. As things stand, it forecasts that 21 cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020; also, 40% of our citizens will have no access to drinking water by 2030.

A line forms to fill water. (Photo: Rupart Taylor-Prince/Flickr)

5) By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply.

6) This will be implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions and an eventual loss of around 6% of the country’s GDP by 2050.

7) Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems, especially because approx 53% of agriculture in India is rainfed.

8) Inter-State disputes over the water issue has been raising now, with 7 major disputes are seen right now.

9) India holds about 4% of global freshwater and 16% of its population.

10) The NITI Aayog database says 54% of wells in India are declining in level due to unsustainable withdrawals for irrigation.

Water Management Scores, By State
State Score (In %) Performance
Gujarat 76 High
Madhya Pradesh 69 High
Andhra Pradesh 68 High
Karnataka 56 Medium
Maharashtra 55 Medium
Punjab 53 Medium
Tamil Nadu 51 Medium
Telangana 50 Medium
Chhattisgarh 49 Low
Rajasthan 48 Low
Goa 44 Low
Kerala 42 Low
Odisha 42 Low
Bihar 38 Low
Uttar Pradesh 38 Low
Haryana 38 Low
Jharkhand 35 Low
Tripura 59 Medium
Himachal Pradesh 53 Medium
Sikkim 49 Low
Assam 31 Low
Nagaland 28 Low
Uttarakhand 26 Low
Meghalaya 26 Low

Data Source: Composite Water Management Index, NITI Aayog.

A Times Of India report on The Economic Survey 2017-18 stated the complexity of India’s water crisis and explained the triggers, including rapid groundwater depletion, decline in average rainfall and increasing dry monsoon days.

The Water Emergency In India

The union government recently formed a new Jal Shakti (water) ministry, which aims at tackling water issues with a holistic and integrated perspective on the subject. The ministry has announced an ambitious plan to provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024. The ministry has set a tough target at a time when hundreds of millions don’t have access to clean water. Aiming at laying huge pipeline networks for water supply means that yet again, we are giving more preference to infrastructure.

Young girls carry water back to their homes. (Photo: Tom Maisey/Wikimedia Commons)

Jal Shakti will be the umbrella ministry under which all water-related ministries will be integrated. So, the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation with the former Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation will be merged into the new ministry.

What Is The Need Of The Hour?

I think it’s high time for India to declare a climate emergency. It’s not just the climate issue but the entire breadth of environmental issues we are facing today. Air pollution, poor management of waste, growing water scarcity, falling groundwater tables, water pollution, preservation and quality of forests, biodiversity loss, and land/soil degradation are some of the things we’re struggling with.

1) The government needs to seriously take action in educating the public on proper uses of water, and people also need to concern themselves about the dangers of wasting water.

2) The government of India must concentrate on managing demand. They must ensure a timely, leak-proof and safe water supply rather than promising 24 hours supply based on nothing.

3) Controlling the water consumption at irrigation level is the most important factor as it consumes 85% of groundwater without inflicting food security of the country.

4) Water literacy at the national level should be the primary focus, which has not been seriously done so far. It is high time to introduce special models on water saving, conservation and utilization – starting in school.

5) The government of India needs to launch an aggressive program of nature based solution, ecological restoration, ideally to build resilience and generate livelihoods.

6) There is an urgent need to increase and spread awareness about recycling, reusing and conservation of water.

On a positive note, many organizations such as actor Aamir Khan’s Pani Foundation and Nana Patekar’s and Makarand Anaspure’s NAAM Foundation have played an important role in the building of small ponds, widening and deepening of water bodies with mutual cooperation and work. Therefore, the government, NGOs and a group of people have implemented many such programmes to resolve the crisis; to increase awareness about the conservation of water. It is now our responsibility to make a success out of this!

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images.
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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