Water-Stressed India Needs Scientific Management Of Water Resources

Water is the most important natural resource next to air for all living beings. Although the world though has got a large amount of water resources, about 97.5% are saline in nature. Out of the rest, 2.5 per cent of freshwater, 1.7 per cent is frozen in the form of glaciers and snow and 0.75 per cent is available as groundwater and the rest 0.05 per cent is available in rivers, lakes etc.

With increasing population along with growing agricultural and industrial activities, nearly 32.3 per cent of people on the planet are either underwater stress or water scarcity. Unfortunately, India falls under the category of water-stressed region of the world. A developing country like India with an ever-increasing population, urbanisation and rapid industrialisation, is bound to fill the pain of acute water shortage in the years to come.

Water pollution

At present, nearly 70 per cent of the total water available both on the surface and ground is being utilised in the agricultural sector, about 10 per cent for meeting domestic requirements and the rest 20 per cent is being consumed by industries.

In these three major sectors i.e. agriculture, domestic and industries, water consumption is on the rise without any control and judicious management. In recent years, industrial development is being affected due to the dearth of water. Further, freshwater reserves in India are not only dwindling due to various human activities but also a large amount of water in rivers and other wetlands is being polluted due to reckless release of sewage and effluents. By consuming polluted water, a large number of our population, particularly the children and senior citizens are being affected by various water-borne diseases and a large number of them are dying prematurely every year. 

It may be mentioned here that, in India, because of the limited amount of surface water resources, in many states, irrigation is mostly done by extracting the groundwater resource which results in a rapid decrease of water level in aquifers. This has posed a very serious problem for the country, especially in the arid and semi-arid regions where water scarcity is acute. Here, groundwater mostly meets the irrigation as well as domestic demand. In such areas, to meet the demands for both sectors, intensive rainwater harvesting particularly artificial recharging of aquifers has to be adopted in a systematic and massive way. 

Foodgrain production

It has been estimated that in India, by 2050, the food grain production will be double the present figure to about 420 million tons. For this, the projected water requirement is 1180 km3 compared to the present requirement of around 800 km3. Similarly, the domestic as well as industrial water requirements are expected to be doubled or tippled. In view of this, serious efforts are to be made to have an integrated freshwater management programme. Some of the important factors responsible for polluting the surface as well as groundwater are poor land-use practices and direct pollutant discharge to surface water bodies as well as to the aquifers. Further, inefficient water management is reflected in poor patterns of water delivery and water losses through seepage, leaks, and evaporations. Thus in India, nearly 47% of the water being supplied, is lost in the distribution system before it reaches consumers. 

Misuse of water

In India, the mismanagement of fresh water in various sectors includes misuse and wastage of water. For example, over-irrigation is making land less productive. The unscientific method of water transportation is causing a lot of water loss. In view of careless disposal of domestic, sewage and effluents of industrial units as well as agricultural fields, most of our rivers and lakes are getting polluted very fast. In some areas, due to these solid wastes and effluents, the groundwater has also been polluted.

In addition, due to various human activities, most of our wetlands are vanishing at a fast rate. Because of all such abuses, good quality freshwater is becoming more and more scarce in our country. Unless immediate action is taken to augment fresh water resources, the socio-economic development of the country will be affected.

Utilisable water

The water resource potential of India as assessed by the Central Water Commission in the year 1993, is 1869 km3. However, with the limitations of physiographic conditions, socio-economic environment, and the available technology, the utilisable water resources of the country have been assessed at 1123 km3 of which 690 km3 and 433 km3 are surface and groundwater respectively.

The harnessing of most of the utilisable surface water is possible only if matching storages are built as required. However, if the trans-basin transfer of water as proposed under the National Perspective Plan is taken into account, the quantity can be enhanced by another 200 km3. Similarly, the Central Ground Water Board has estimated that it is possible to increase the groundwater availability by artificial recharge of rainwater to the aquifer by another 36 km3

In view of this situation, the available water resources have to be managed scientifically in agricultural, domestic and industrial sectors. Some of the immediate remedies towards integrated development and conservation of our freshwater resources are summarised below:

  1. Rainwater harvesting on the surface as well as charging to aquifers should be carried out in a scientific manner without any contamination.
  2. Adoption of efficient irrigation systems like sprinkle and drip irrigation and encouraging farmers for producing crops that consume less water.
  3. Loss in water transport in agricultural, industrial and domestic sectors has to be minimised by adopting improved technology.
  4. Treatment of sewage, industrial effluents etc. before discharging treated water to the rivers and other water bodies, has to be carried out properly.
  5. Programmes for the development of wetlands and creation of new ones to harvest more rainwater and recharging aquifers along with developing aquatic wealth have to be undertaken. 
  6. Industries should have captive rainwater harvesting programmes to meet their water requirements and also should recycle their wastewater.
  7. Measures to minimise the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides in agricultural fields and instead of using organic manures and organic pesticides have to be undertaken to keep the agricultural effluents and nearby water bodies free of the pollutants. 
  8. Pricing of water has to be done in a rational manner in different sectors to conserve and utilise this valuable resource judiciously.
  9. Arrangements have to be made to provide potable water to all sections of people both in rural and urban areas throughout the year and
  10.  Regular monitoring of water quality (both surface and ground) needs to be carried out both in rural and urban areas for different purposes.  

The central and state governments in India, at different levels, should gear up their machinery to implement these programmes using modern technology so that the people in the country, while getting enough portable water should lead a healthy life and achieve sustainable socio economic development both in the agricultural and industrial sectors.

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