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Water Crisis In India Is Getting Worse By The Day. But There Is A Remedy.

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Local ladies gather to fill water from the only well in the area at Gorai village, Borivli. In cases of severe water shortage, women become the people in the family to travel long distances to fetch water. In some communities, men even marry a second or a third time so that they can have someone to fetch water for them. (Photo by Mahendra Parikh/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

We are running out of water. Day ‘zero’ is fast-approaching. India is witnessing its most devastating water crisis in decades, and in the future, it will continue to witness the same if we do not do something soon. Broadly, this crisis can be attributed to reasons ranging from lack of planning—governmental and commercial, an unprecedented rate of urbanisation, to increased privatising of resources.

I will talk about a sector that still engages 50% of India’s population—agriculture. One major problem is the inefficient and unsustainable use of water by the agriculture sector, something the whole community needs to take responsibility for, not just farmers. The nation, as a whole, needs to take not because water scarcity in India is expected to worsen in the coming times, as the country’s population is expected to grow to an all-time high of 1.6 billion by the year 2050.

Is India Water-Deficient?

For a nation to be considered water-deficient, it’s per capita availability of the resource has to fall below 1,700 cubic meters per person. According to ORF, “The per capita water availability that fell by 15% during the first decade of this century to 1,545 cubic meters per person, will be below 1,400 cubic meters per person this (2018) summer.” The question of equitable water distribution and availability of resources are questions that will have to be addressed separately.

As established above, despite India having seven major river systems that consist of more than 400 rivers, there is a debilitating water crisis owing to poorly managed water systems, archaic management techniques, over-exploitation of groundwater, lack of water-treatment mechanisms and rainwater-harvesting, along with inefficient irrigation techniques.

‘Re-Mapping’ Strategies

Irrigation consumes around 84% of the total available water, making it the most water-intensive sector. Focusing on this particular resource will in-turn stabilise India’s food security (and productivity), along with economic security (profitability), as it is estimated that more than half of the Indian total workforce is directly or indirectly employed in this sector. The way forward is a sustainable-water consumption.

For representation only. Source: DownToEarth

According to a report by UNESCO-IHE Institute of Water Education, it is estimated that the “Indian water footprint (the ratio of the total volume of water consumed for production to the quantity of production), particularly in the case of production of rice, is 2,020 cubic meter a year in comparison to China’s 970 cubic meters a year, and a global average of 1,325 M3 a year.” This basically reiterates that the Indian farmer uses more water for crops than the global average. Moreover, certain water-guzzling crops are grown in water-starved regions of India. Combining the inefficient irrigation mechanisms with erratic rainfall there has led to a kind of threat to the environment and to livelihoods in recent times. Therefore, there is an exigent need to conceptualise and reshape how we use our limited resources.

From the environmentalist and academia fields, a proposed solution is seen in the form of a systematic shift from the macro to the micro-irrigation system or ‘precision irrigation’, using techniques like drip irrigation or sprinkler irrigation. The latter system of irrigation is more water and cost-efficient compared to farming techniques that are supported by flood or open-canal irrigation systems. People seem to be aware of this technique, but continue to remain unaware of its benefits, which has restricted a much wider reach of this technique.

Another aspect we need to consider is the remapping of crops. This involves moving highly water-intensive crops from the states that have low water-yielding potential (inability to replenish the sources of groundwater and freshwater) to states that do have that natural capability. Cultivation of crops like rice, paddy, wheat, cotton, sugarcane, and banana, that require more water, should be shifted from states like Punjab, Maharashtra and Haryana to states in the North-east, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh that have high irrigation water productivity.

The governments of low-water yielding states, however, have not shown much interest in re-educating farmers about other profitable low-water intensive crops, and reinforce, through incentives to continue to grow the water-thirsty crops. The government needs to invest in infrastructure and provide incentives to the naturally high water-yielding states to take the lead in the same. India must begin to spend money on conserving water consumed in agriculture.

For representation only

Recycling Water?

In addition to the above-proposed solutions, we could learn from the ‘Isreali Model‘. Israel has effectively begun to recycle water for irrigation. It is claimed that 80% of wastewater in Israel is recycled and utilised for agriculture purposes. This resolves the two problems—firstly, this cost-effective water treatment utilises water that is not suitable for human consumption, and secondly, the water, and sludge does not contaminate any freshwater sources of water. Dr. Sharad Jain, a senior scientist at the National Institute of Hydrology, Roorkee, reiterates the instrumentality of water recycling, “In frankfurt, for instance, one drop of water is recycled eight times before it reaches the sea. Here, we do not recycle even once,” he pointed out.

Shouldn’t we learn from our counterparts from across the world? In a country where contaminated water has killed 13,000 people in the last four years, where 68% of children die due to malnutrition, we must work on using water efficiently to increase agricultural productivity.

How Do We Go Ahead?

This nation has to reprioritise and tackle these issues. We have a crisis in hand that can still be managed. The state and civil society are required to systematically come up with solutions. There is an urgent need to educate people about our water footprint. A greater focus needs to be given to research and development, and invest in techniques that can assist us in finding sustainable long-term water-consumption patterns for our country.

This sentiment is shared by Dr. UK Sinha, a senior fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, who said “This means structural and non-structural amendments. It requires political intervention, and it requires science to be brought in. It requires lessons from the past, it requires a state-center relationship of cooperation and consultation. It also requires examples to be from other parts of the world related to unreal flooding. The Water crisis needs an integrated approach to its management that takes into account various aspects, including demand and supply, and how to use water efficiently.

The time is now for India to take the lead and fix the damage that lapsed agricultural practices have cost the country. The onus has to be on us all, not just one community or state actors.

Note: The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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