India among 17 ‘extremely high’ water stressed countries
Over 600 million Indians face high-to-extreme water stress currently. However, the crises may deepen in the future, considering the alarming level at which water levels in the country are depleting. If the situation worsens, the poor and the rich would be equally at the receiving end of the stick.
“Water stress is the biggest crisis no one is talking about,” says Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the World Resources Institute, as yet another research puts India among in the list of ‘extremely highly’ water stressed countries in the world. The Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas places India on the 13th position among 17 countries that are approaching a 'Day-Zero' situation. Severe groundwater depletion poses as a threat to the entirety of northern India while southern India is also amid chronic water stress. Here's a look at the current water situation in the country.
Water situation in Indian states currently
In the Global Water Quality Index, India occupies the 120th position among 122 countries. Three-fourth of Indian households do not have access to water at their homes. Of all the water that is supplied, 70 per cent happens to be contaminated. The Composite Water Management Index developed by the NITI Aayog, indicates far worse days coming our way.
According to the index, 60 per cent of Indian states have scorers below. These include Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, Assam, Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Odisha, Kerala, Goa, Rajasthan, Sikkim and Chhattisgarh. Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, are the best-performing states, with a score between 68 and 76. The report, however, notes that water management is improving across states.
Associated risks of the water crisis
“The country faces significant risks as the low performers are home to 50 per cent of the country’s population and its agricultural baskets,” records the report. These states also account for 20-30 per cent of the country’s agricultural output. Therefore, risk due to water crisis would also double up as a food security risk for the Indian population.
If India has to recover from an impending water crisis, says the report, authorities will need to wake up and work on source augmentation and restoration of water bodies, delve into participatory irrigation practices, encourage sustainable on-farm water use practices, work around drinking water in rural areas and ensure water supply in urban areas without compromising on sanitation. The report estimates that scarcity may be on the horizon if authorities do not intervene in time. About 100 million people in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad may be affected due to groundwater depletion by 2020. Worse, the overall demand for water will exceed supply twofold, by 2030.
Water situation in various Indian states
The report singles out Punjab, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh as the largest wastewater generators. These states can treat 65 to 100 per cent of their urban wastewater. On the other hand, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh, do not have the capacity to treat more than half of its wastewater. It is difficult for the north-eastern and Himalayan states to treat waste water, considering they have low or no capacity.
Subsidies on water bills causing problems
On an average, 40 per cent of urban households pay for water supply, but the trend varies from state to state. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, shows the report, only a negligible proportion of the population pays for water. “Even in most of the larger cities, such as Delhi and Mumbai, water is highly subsidised for all users. However, some of these cities are moving towards consumption slab-based tariffs, with low consumption users, usually the poor, paying low tariffs and being cross subsidised by the higher tariffs on the high consumption users. Other cities can implement these consumption-based tariffs to ensure equity while moving water utility systems towards full-cost returns and economic efficiencies as a whole,” recommends the NITI Aayog.
Future course for water management
While many states have initiated action, we have a long way to go. “Ensuring India’s water security and providing access to safe and adequate drinking water to all Indians is a priority of the government,” finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman said while presenting the budget for 2019-20 on July 5. The constitution of the Jal Shakti Mantralaya is a step in that regard. This initiative has been undertaken to provide piped water supply to all rural households by 2024, under the Jal Jeevan Mission.