India’s water scarcity and challenges

India is in the midst of one of the most severe water shortages.

Following two years of poor monsoons, 330 million people — a fifth of the country’s population — are suffering from extreme drought. With nearly half of India experiencing drought-like conditions, the situation has been especially dire last year in western and southern states that recorded less than normal rainfall.

According to the Composite Water Index report, 21 urban cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad are rushing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2022, thereby affecting 100 million people’s access. However, due to excessive groundwater pumping, an inadequate and ineffective water supply scheme, and years of insufficient rainfall, 12% of India’s population is already living in the ‘Day Zero’ scenario. According to the CWMI forecast, by 2030, the country’s water demand is expected to be twice the available availability, meaning extreme water shortages for hundreds of millions of people and a 6% loss in GDP.

The Union government recently formed a new Jal Shakti ministry intending to resolve water problems from a comprehensive and integrated standpoint. The government has unveiled a bold proposal to link every household in India to piped water by 2024. The ministry has set a lofty goal at a time when hundreds of millions of people lack access to safe drinking water. Aiming to create vast pipeline networks for water supplies means that we are prioritising utilities once again. Often, the matter of what will happen if there is no water to supply is moot. What happens to all of the wastewater that is produced?

This demonstrates a strong divide between water, culture, and the economy. Currently, we are engaged in laying vast networks, building massive reservoir dams, and fetching water from 150 kilometres and beyond, which has a significant carbon footprint.

We respect land rather than water, denying our local water sources, which have either dried up or been encroached upon. In addition, water is not distributed adequately in many Indian towns. Few areas of megacities, such as Delhi and Mumbai, receive more than the normal urban water norm of 150 litres per capita per day, while others receive 40–50 lpcd.

The fact that the water being delivered now meets drinking water quality exacerbates the problem. According to the World Health Organisation, a person requires approximately 25 litres of water a day to satisfy his or her basic hygiene and food needs. The leftover water is used for non-potable applications such as mopping and washing. This means that for the majority of non-potable applications, lower quality than drinking water is needed. As a result, for economic viability and environmental protection, water must be stored and supplied on a consumption basis.

On top of that, there are problems with leakage leaks, water pricing, and water metering. Lack of adequate management of current facilities results in additional shortages of about 40% of piped water in urban areas.

The way ahead

Given the current scenario, a paradigm shift is required. We desperately need to move away from this supply-and-supply-more-water’ provision and toward policies that improve water usage quality, reduce leakages, recharge/restore local water bodies, and apply for higher tariffs and ownership by different stakeholders.

A closed-loop structure focused on recovery is important. It is time to return to our conventional form of rainwater collection — collecting water as it rains. Currently, India captures just 8% of its annual rainfall, which is among the lowest in the country.

Another factor is wastewater disposal and reuse. About 80% of the water that enters households ends up as waste, polluting our water bodies and the environment. There is enormous interest in reusing and treating this treated wastewater for non-potable uses, which is also cost-efficient.

All of this points to the need for a more decentralised solution, with a particular emphasis on water recycling, source preservation, storage, and reuse. It is crucial to realise that handling the water situation is the responsibility of all stakeholders, including hydrogeologists, economists, planners, and, most notably, societies themselves.

Since behavioural modification is subtle and dynamic, it does not get enough publicity. Locals/citizens/communities, on the other hand, play a significant role. We will help by holding our use and behaviour in order.

Our decision-makers must reconsider: Are we being sold fantasies or realities? Think about it!

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