World Water Day 2016: Why Is India Water-stressed?

World Water Day is an annual event celebrated on 22 March.  

3 min read
Women carrying on their heads water from local wells. (Photo: iStockphoto)

“Water, water all around and not a drop to drink.”

With 4 percent of the planet’s fresh water resources and 16 percent of the world’s population, India has always faced a challenge to ensure that all its citizens have access to adequate and clean water supplies.

An estimated 1,00,000 Indians die from water-related diseases each year and experts have predicted that by 2030, our water supply will fall short of demand by 50 percent. In fact, a UN report ranked India 120th of 122 nations based on its water quality, and over 50 percent of the country is likely to face high-to-extremely-high water stress.

So what does water stress mean?

Essentially, water stress happens when “the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use.”


Water-stressed India

 Indian young girl drawing water from a well, Rajasthan. (Photo: iStock)
Indian young girl drawing water from a well, Rajasthan. (Photo: iStock)

On World Water Day 2016, we take a look at three of the reasons why India’s becoming a water-stressed country:
• Unsustainable water use:
A fundamental reason for water stress in India is that we’re using more water than can be replenished. Unsustainable water use and a reliance on groundwater have meant that our sub-surface water levels have dropped by as much as 54 percent in the last seven years. Over 60 percent of our agriculture is rain-fed and depends on groundwater, making any shortage a serious issue for farmers and food security.

Puja ceremony on the banks of Ganga. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Puja ceremony on the banks of Ganga. (Photo: iStockphoto)

• Climate change impact:
A warming climate is likely to play havoc with the Himalayan glaciers which are the source for some of India’s most important rivers such as the Indus, Brahmaputra and the Ganga.
• Untreated sewage:
A 2013 report found that India produces over 40,000 million litres of sewage daily but just about 20 percent of it is treated and the rest is discharged into rivers. The waste then contaminates the groundwater, creating a “ticking health bomb in India”. The net result is that 70 percent of the country’s water is polluted by sewage waste.

Overcoming Scarcity

Poor Indian children asking for fresh water. (Photo: iStockphoto)
Poor Indian children asking for fresh water. (Photo: iStockphoto)

Managing our water resources isn’t impossible but it requires the government and citizens to come together and take collective action in order to conserve and manage water resources. Take the case of Palve Budruk village for example – a situation of water scarcity was overcome when villagers developed a rainwater harvesting plan to replenish the aquifers in the area. Similarly, many parts of India have long relied on traditional water management practices like building stepwells, underground tanks and even bamboo drip irrigation to ensure a consistent water supply.

On this World Water Day, take a moment to think about your own water use and footprint. From simple things like being conscious of water use and waste to bigger steps like green buildings and rainwater harvesting, we need to consciously ensure that we don’t waste a precious resource that is fundamental to our lives.

(Shalini Iyengar is a lawyer and Research Associate at the International University College of Turin)

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