Water, a valuable resource that is magical and mystical, is both mistreated and misunderstood today. Jacques Yves Cousteau once said, "We conveniently forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one" and he doesn't seem too off the mark. Reports claim that by 2030, India will not be able to meet 50% of its water demand. Rising population and growing aspirations coupled with scant regard to water availability and efficiency have pushed us closer to this abyss. Can we possibly back track from this path?
The book titled 'Reflections on managing water: Earth's greatest natural resource' attempts to highlight the challenges faced, address them and contemplate if it is possible to reverse the trend of water scarcity in the country through better management. Let's take a quick look at what the chapters in the book have to offer.
WAR: The World’s Aqua Resources
Even as one in every 5 people on the earth faces water scarcity, the situation is projected to worsen by 2025, with 2 out of 3 people living in water stressed areas. Declining water quality, increased conflict across nations due to transboundary water issues, climate change are all further causes for concern. Is the earth running dry, or is it water resource management that is inadequate?
India's national song 'Vande Mataram' mentions India as 'Sujalam, Suphalam, Malayaja Shitalam' -- a country 'richly watered, richly fruited'.
India’s Water Can
Though we have vast natural resources of water, these have been rampantly mismanaged and abused. We also have no database on our water bodies. There is a difference in opinion on how much water is actually available, but the decline in per capita availability of water in the future seems imminent. What is needed is a change in the current business as usual scenario, a change in the storyline and the story itself.
Revering and Celebrating Water
Water is an integral part of culture, beliefs, and festivals, and plays a central part in all religions across the world. One interesting example is that of the Sindhis who worship ‘Jhulelal’, God of water, because in ancient times they mostly traded using water routes. Festivals, monsoon ragas, Hindi cinema, all celebrate water!
Water at Work
Dependence on groundwater for irrigation has increased tremendously leading to over exploitation of this important resource. Water use efficiency too is very low, 40% for canal irrigation and 60% for groundwater irrigation. The time for change and reducing agricultural water footprints has come. Several industries are facing acute water shortages and what is required is a uniform pricing policy based on the water consumed and pollution produced.
Nearly 70% of the surface water and a growing percentage of groundwater reserves are contaminated. Their impact on health and the economy is enormous. Its mitigation will need a mix of technological, financial, institutional and social measures.
India generates a massive 38,000 million litres of of sewage every day. The governement has the capacity to treat less than 1/3rd of the muck.
India is the 2nd most flood prone country in the world with over 3 million Indians affected every year. Urban flooding has added to the misery but the extent of damage and loss to lives, assets and agriculture can be reduced by better land and water management. Activities need to be undertaken at regional, national and local levels.
The Spectre of Drought
62% of our land is susceptible to drought, and we have experienced severe droughts, almost 1 every 5 years in the last 2 centuries. Major droughts in India were followed by significant declines in GDP. Rainwater captured from even 1-2% of India’s land can ensure 100 lpcd to every citizen. A greater initiative on preparedness and pro active policies are needed to drought proof the country.
Rain: Harnessing the Obvious
Rain is perhaps the most primal source of water but has unfortunately lost its place as an option to meet water needs. The simple technology of using rainwater has declined, and in its place exploitation of rivers and groundwater through dams and tubewells has become the source of water. There have been revival initiatives, but interest in this resource need to be regenerated.
Linking Life: Water and Nature
Water and biodiversity are interdependent, and disruption in one leads to disruption in both. Yajnavalkya Smriti, a 5th century statecraft text, prohibits tree felling and prescribes punishment for such acts. We need to take measures to ensure a sound water ecological balance.
Legal Landscape of Water
Necessity, availability and misuse form the triggers for the legal framework within which water as a resource is managed. Even as the Supreme Court states that 'Water is a basic human right’, there is a need to revamp this legal structure and ease out old legislations which are outdated or out of context.
Towards Abundance: Assuring Water Security
Water may be the new gold, expensive and not easily available to all, but this can change. All it needs is concerted involvement and action at all levels, and by all. And we need all that NOW.
Dr Indira Khurana, co-author, shares her perspective on water and more in an interview with India Water Portal.