Simple Management Steps Need To Be Taken To Mitigate India’s Water Crisis
India is in the water-stressed region of the world. Nearly fifty per cent of people in India at present do not get enough drinking water throughout the year. In recent years, due to rapid industrialisation and urbanisation, most of its wetlands and forests have been lost and as a result, a large amount of rainwater is draining out to the ocean through rivers.
In addition, waste and effluents from industries and urban areas are polluting rivers and other water bodies and even
the groundwater to a large extent. Mismanagement and misuse of water are highly responsible for the crisis. In India, the emphasis is generally on developing water resources rather than their proper management. There is an emphasis on the supply of water for uses in agriculture, domestic, industry and hydropower sectors but there is not much focus on the demand side and its effective management. Unless a proper water management plan is developed and timely
implemented, the present crisis may become more severe in the coming years.
In view of this, the following minimum programme to mitigate the water crisis needs to be seriously considered, planned
Checking Water Quality and Adoption of Better Water Transport System
Considerable capital costs can be saved on projects for proper management of the water demand. Let us take a bright example of the lacuna in demand management with respect to urban India. In the process of supplying water to various urban areas, it has been estimated that unaccounted water is almost over 40%. Further, many times the importance of the quality of water supplied for domestic consumption is lost sight of. As a result, urban communities suffer from water-borne and water-related diseases. It should be the first and foremost task of the concerned authority to incorporate schemes for effective control of the quality of water as well as for undertaking systematic steps to stop wastage like leak detection in water transport pipes so that the unaccounted for water percentage can be minimised.
Wetlands play an important role in augmenting water resources and protecting water quality, maintaining a balanced ecosystem of the region and providing socio-economic benefits. Direct benefits that, human beings derive from wetlands include the production of fresh water, fish etc. and effective movement of water into streams and rivers. The indirect benefits include flood control, recharge of aquifers and storm protection. During the last century, India has lost nearly 50% of its wetlands due to human settlements, urbanisation, industrialisation and agricultural activities. Some of the major human activities responsible for the destruction of wetlands in India are given in Table – I.
Table – I
Major human activities leading to the destruction of wetlands
Direct deforestation in wetlands
Inundation by dammed reservoirs
Degradation of water quality
Global climate change effects
Introduced species- extinction of native biota
To increase water resources both on the surface and in aquifers, it is highly essential to protect the natural as well as
manmade wetlands. Therefore, wetland development and management should be given high priority. The primary and secondary objectives of wetland management are given in Table – II.
Table – II
Primary Objectives Secondary Objectives
Production of food (including pisciculture) Production of commercial reeds and other crops
(including bio-fertilisers and Cattle fodder).
Improvement of wastewater quality Using wetlands as a buffer between industrial and other urban activities or saline and non-saline segments.
Groundwater Recharge Reduction of Soil Erosion
Flood Control and Water Storage Providing Recreational and Aesthetic Benefits
Drainage Easement –
Wildlife Conservation Including Habitat for Fish
Reduction of Atmospheric Pollution and
Temperature Moderation –
Conducting Scientific Enquiry and Desirable Land
Use Studies –
Most parts of India receive a good amount of rainwater but a large portion of this water hurriedly goes back to the ocean through rivers and streams. If this rainwater is harvested both on the surface and injected into aquifer, there should be no water scarcity in most parts of the country.
Further, the problem of water shortage both in arid and semi-arid regions is low rainfall and uneven distribution throughout the year, thus, making rain-fed agriculture quite risky. The agricultural sector consumes nearly 70%, the industry 20% and the domestic sector 10% of water resources. In order to meet these requirements, the rainwater harvesting programme should be well planned and implemented both in rural and urban areas.
In recent decades, the traditional water harvesting techniques are gaining popularity being simple, sure to implement and low capital investment. However, water harvesting methods depend on local conditions and include practices such as bunding, pitting, micro catchment, flood water and groundwater harvesting etc. In this regard, it may be mentioned that a few decades back, in the Balangir district of Odisha where traditional water harvesting structures were used, more than 52% of agricultural land could be irrigated. But now, the modern irrigation projects applied in this region failed to achieve even this target.
The traditional water harvesting systems adopted in western Odisha were developed centuries back. These include bandh (Traditional Pond), Munda (semicircular structure), Kata (a larger Munda), Chahala (rectangular tank dug within a paddy field without any embankment), and Sagar (a structure measuring around 8 hectors and situated just below hills).
These systems were developed keeping in view, the topography of the region, rainfall and the extent of water needed locally. The structures were used for harvesting rainwater by managing it very skillfully and keeping the biodiversity and ecology of the region in good shape.
The management systems were very well framed to benefit the largest possible number of people in the region with minimum cost. It is suggested that this type of rainwater harvesting should be popularised so that, it will go a long way toward solving water scarcity at least for agricultural activities.
As agricultural activities consume the major amount of available water in the country, the water economy and conservation sectors have to be properly planned, monitored and managed. Besides harvesting rainwater on small and medium scales at suitable sites, better irrigation methods like surface, sprinkler and drip irrigation should be practised. In both surface and sprinkle irrigation, nearly 25% of water is lost through evaporation, whereas in the case of drip irrigation only 5% loss takes place. In Israel, due to acute water scarcity, nearly 50% of agricultural land in that country adopts drip irrigation. In India, efforts should be made to develop cheap drip irrigation equipment and this should be popularised by subsidising the system.
The Government should encourage farmers to grow crops needing less water and also develop methods using less water for crop production. For example, experiments in the Guangxi province of China have proved that, at some stages of growth, paddy benefits from lower water levels and it has been possible to grow more rice using less water. In the past, by using 5907 m 3 of water, it was possible to grow 5866 kg of rice by the conventional method, where the paddy fields were continually submerged in water. But, by applying the new technique, it has been possible to increase rice yield to 6534 kg by using only 4659 m 3 of water.
We should now realise that rainwater may be a nature’s gift but the water which is used particularly for drinking and other domestic purposes when supplied to the consumers, a lot of public money is spent on its purification and supply. This amount should be recovered from the users. Therefore, the users including farmers, industries and commercial organisations should pay for the water supplied. Pricing of water should be done to provide revenue to recover all expenditures to make the water utility self-supporting and also for providing funds for future expansion. In this way, dependence on outside capital is minimized. For all user sectors, the water tariff rate should increase with the increase in consumption slabs, so that the users can be economical in water consumption.
The price paid by consumers has generally a direct influence on the amount of water used. Pricing tariff based on consumption discourages waste. In the case of supply of water to households and smaller agricultural farmers particularly to the people in lower income groups, suitable subsidies should be given. In recent years, due to the dearth of fresh drinking water, there is tremendous growth in water supply industries. In this process in proportion to the income, the poor class pays much more than the rich ones. In view of this, the Government should take immediate steps to provide drinking water to all with minimum tariff and free of cost for people below the poverty level and for a nominal rate to people of low-income group.
In recent years, India is facing an acute shortage of fresh water for its growing population and commercial organisations. In addition to wastage, a large amount of water is being polluted by solid waste and effluents generated in industries and urban areas. These should be taken care of by keeping the wastes away from water bodies and adopting better transportation and supply systems. In view of this, it is essential to plan and implement the above five programmes to
mitigate water crisis.