In India, the basic resource of water is still not completely accessible or available to all. With a burgeoning population and economy, competition for water comes from households, agriculture, and industries.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 97 million people in India do not have access to safe sources of drinking water, second only to China. If the situation does not change soon, the problem will worsen in the coming years because India is estimated to overtake China to become the most populous country in less than 15 years.
Primary reasons for India’s water crisis
There are three different reasons for the water crisis that in India.
1. Population growth
With an estimated population of 1.2 billion, India is able to provide only 1000 cubic metres of drinkable water per person per year. India is considered to be a high water stress country, which means that the total water withdrawals are much higher compared to its renewable supply.
2. Poor water quality
Water from Indian rivers is not safe for drinking. Much of the rivers remain polluted and industrial effluent standards are not strictly enforced. With insufficient investment and planning in urban water treatment facilities, the amount of drinking water that can be provided to citizens is limited.
3. Dwindling groundwater supply
There is a problem with over-extraction of groundwater for agriculture. Since it is considered an open access resource, anyone can pump groundwater from their land. There are millions of farmers in India, and they all extract groundwater for their crops. Dwindling water supply is but an inevitable eventuality.
Critical areas of concern
These are some of the main concerns stemming from the water crisis in India.
The need to increase water availability for agriculture
There is an estimated 140 million hectares of agricultural area in India, but only 60 million hectares are irrigated. To feed the growing population, Indian agriculture must grow at a targeted rate of at least 4% per year. This requires that the farmlands be irrigated well and be introduced to high yield technologies. Rains cannot be completely relied upon because the monsoon season is only for few months and is also unevenly distributed across the entire country. India must develop the capacity to harvest, store, and transport water to provide adequate support to its agricultural community.
Future economic growth
If a country is unable to expand agricultural productivity, its economic growth is also likely to be impacted. India has a targeted economic growth above 8%, and this growth will lead to an increased demand in agricultural products. Restrictions on imports and limited land for cultivation will restrict the supply of agricultural products. The only way out is the expansion of irrigation which will allow farmers to double crop, or adopt new technologies that will increase the output per hectare.
India’s 12th five-year plan (2012-17) has carefully considered all of the issues discussed above. There is growing awareness of water issues, and state governments and NGOs are actively enforcing compliance to environmental obligations such as water conservation and effluent standards.
References: Kirit S. Parikh. 2013. India’s Water Crisis: Causes and Cures.