Water in India: Situation and prospects: Book release by UNICEF, FAO and SaciWaters

New indices are needed to measure available water resources, says a report on the state of the water sector in India, entitled Water in India: Situation and Prospects by UNICEF, FAO and SaciWATERS.

The report released at UNDP, New Delhi on February 14, 2013 attempts to consolidate the significant amounts of information available on water and sanitation in India and also aims to examine the key current challenges in the sector; both the threats and opportunities for the water sector in India.

Dr Aidan Cronin, Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Specialist, UNICEF gives a sneak preview to the report

Video courtesy: UNICEF

The report written by Anjal Prakash, Medhavi Sharma and Jayati Chourey focuses on evolving an environment where water is available for all in a sustainable manner: safe drinking water for basic needs, adequate water for agriculture, for industry etc. It has policy framers, decision makers, implementers, academics and all involved and interested in the water sector in India as its target audience.

India’s booming economy, water insecurity and poor water quality remains a major cause of child mortality and morbidity, especially among the poor. India lost more than 600,000 children under 5 in 2010 due to WASH ( Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) related diseases like diarrhoea and pneumonia, says the report. 

water demand-supply

Water in India: Situation and Prospects, UNICEF, FAO and SaciWaters, 2013

It further says that “With only 4 per cent of the global water resources but 16 per cent of the world’s population, India is facing serious challenges in meeting water demand. Only 13 per cent of adult males collect water. Women are hard hit by water shortages and they have to carry water for longer distances. Children also have to fetch water and miss out on school and homework.”

It presents information on the water sector in an integrated, holistic manner. These issues can be tackled with a sharp and forward-looking vision for the governance of water. There is a strong need for convergence of laws and legislations and synchronization between various departments dealing with water. Mr G Mohan Kumar, Special Secretary, Ministry for Water Resources observed that the new national water policy brought out by the Ministry has made an attempt to look at water from a holistic angle and reflects the concerns of various sectors and users.

water photo

Image Courtesy: UNICEF India/2012/Dhiraj Singh — with Ravi Emmanuel Benjamin and Chandan Kumar

While elaborating on the need for indices, Anjal Prakash stated that “the calculations of per capita water availability do not include disparity in water allocation and access. This disparity is identified as a major determining factor for water access and use. The per capita water availability does not take into account the temporal and spatial variability in a vast country like India that has varied socioecology. These data are the starting points of policy initiatives in the country and therefore any ambiguity in identifying the magnitude of the problem will only hamper workable solutions to it. The validity of the per capita water availability index needs to be rethought in the light of social and economic disparities in water usage that exist in India.”

“On the same grounds, putting forward the argument that increase in population leads to water scarcity needs rigorous debate. A farmer's need of water for basic livelihood support often gets mingled with wasteful water uses of high-end consumers. Therefore, as a point of departure from this orthodox concept, some new indices should be developed and used which are able to capture the underlying differences in water access”, Anjal Prakash said.

water photo1

Image Courtesy: UNICEF India/2012/Dhiraj Singh — with Ravi Emmanuel Benjamin and Chandan Kumar

The report states that gender understanding is a key pre-requisite for water programming and so better data is needed in this area. It says that in India, gender intersects with class and caste and produces layered social hierarchies that impinge on one’s access to, and control over, this precious resource.

The marginalized and poor are the hardest hit as they have to use unprotected water sources, are deprived of access to drinking water sources and water quality is poor which has impact on their health, the report says.

As per Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates the total water demand will equal water availability by 2025. Dr Peter Kenmore, FAO representative in his welcome address noted that there was a need for moving away from crop production concept and that “the 12th five year plan has a good deal of coverage both in the water and agriculture sections on how we can produce more with less water... We need to look at not only more crop per drop but also ensure more viable benefits to rural families per drop.”

Lise Grande, UN Resident Coordinator in India stated that a rigorous process had been followed for developing the report and it is informed by desk reviews as well as five regional consultations. The report compiles data on the full range of water issues from water hydrogeology to resource use, water quality, health impact, agricultural productivity, livelihoods, governance and gender. 

Mr. Dinesh Chand, Special Advisor, Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation said that the report would go towards contributing to efforts on managing water resources more effectively during implementation of the twelfth five year plan.

The report suggests that there is need to analyse the comparative water use by industry. Industrial water productivity is the lowest in India, according to Anjal Prakash. There are issues around industrial pollution and separate policies are required to tackle water use in industry.

Sara Ahmed, International Development Research Centre while discussing the report noted that it could have dealt at greater length on the issue of demographics and in particular the enormous impact peri-urban population is likely to have on water management. Some other missing links include the relationship between safe water and health, the issue of climate variability, and that of sanitation in water logged and flooded areas. She felt that the need for developing better understanding of water-energy-food security nexus is utmost.

The positive changes brought about by small communities in terms of water conservation and management are highlighted in the report. These changes were brought about by the active participation and involvement of communities in finding solutions along with strong political will for change and focus on positive impact.

Read case studies on positive changes brought about by communities.

Download Complete Report 

View Photo Essay by UNICEF

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