Role of Water Resources Management in Economic Development
Analysis shows that in hot and arid tropical countries, the investment in large water storages had helped support economic growth. Moreover, it seems to reduce malnutrition and incidence of child mortality.
Global Risks Report 2016, World Economic Forum (2016) lists water crisis as the largest global risk in terms of potential impact. Increasing population pressure, large scale urbanisation, rising economic activities, changing consumption patterns, improving living standards, climate variability, expansion of irrigated agriculture and changing cropping pattern towards water intensive crops are among the major drivers for rising demand for water.
The impact of water scarcity can be measured in terms of social, environmental and economic impacts. Annual assessment of water availability cannot capture variability within the year and therefore underestimates water scarcity and corresponding social and economic impacts. High water scarcity prevails in areas with high population density to the presence of much irrigated agriculture or both. In the Ganges basin of India, water consumption and water availability are countercyclical. With water consumption being the highest when water availability is the lowest. According to a recent estimate, based on monthly water availability during 1996 to 2005, globally four billion people face severe water scarcity at least for one month of the year. Of these 4 billion people, one fourth (I billion people) live in India, whereas half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity throughout the year. Of this half a billion people, 180 million people live in India. This underlines the problem in the Indian context.
Being the largest user of water, water scarcity impacts the irrigated agriculture substantially. Depending on severity of the scarcity. Impact on agriculture varies. Any fall in agricultural productivity or crop failure in the extreme situation leads to loss of livelihoods for the farmers. Fall in income in agriculture spreads across all sectors of the economy through backward and forward linkages. If the impact of drought is severe, then it would lead to inflation driven by rise in food prices. Water scarcity results in rising income disparity which leads to reduced demands for manufactured goods and services. In the long run, it may lead to general economic recession.
Impact of water scarcity on manufacturing and service sectors will differ depending on their water intensities. It is expected that in the manufacturing sector, water intensive industrial activities like textile bleaching and dyeing, leather processing, food processing and beverages, pulp and paper industries will bear the maximum impact of water scarcity. In the service sector, maximum impacts will be on hospitality (hotels and restaurants), medical services (hospitals) and construction/real estate sector. Though the industrial use of water is very low when compared to agricultural use, the disposal of industrial effluents on land and/or on surface water bodies make water resources unsuitable for other uses.
Access to safe drinking water is vital for human well-being (UNDP 2006). Achieving universal access to improved water supply and sanitation (WSS) facilities by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Goal 6), which aspires to, ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’ (UN, undated). People exposed to polluted drinking water are vulnerable to various water borne diseases. Costs associated with mortality and morbidity of water-borne diseases is high. It is mostly the poor and marginal section of the population who suffer the most, as they cannot afford to protect themselves from the impacts of pollution, as neither have they had access to supplied water nor, can the afford to invest in water purification.
Large scale diversions and withdrawals of water in the upstream of rivers leave little fresh water available for the downstream uses. Not many perennial rivers have adequate fresh water flow during summer to maintain the desired environmental flow (or ecological flow) for sustaining basic ecosystem functions (services)-e.g., groundwater recharge. In many parts of India, groundwater level is falling at an alarming rate. Adoption of water intensive crops (e.g., sugarcane, paddy) throughout the year. Low investment in surface water based irrigation system, unreliability of canal water supply, political interference in distribution of canal water, and elite capturing lead to increasing dependence on groundwater for irrigation. Reckless pumping of groundwater over the year, encouraging rainwater harvesting and watershed structures at the upstream which leave little water available for downstream lead to fall in groundwater level. Myopic approach in water resources management by withdrawing public investment from surface water based irrigation system; encouraging irrigated agriculture and groundwater based irrigation system by providing free electricity are among the primary causes of the present scarcity of water. Adoption of irrigated agriculture and shifting cropping pattern in favors of water intensive crops reduces adaptive capacity of agriculture to water scarcity.
Now the key questions that emerge (are – a) do we need production of so many water-intensive crops (e.g., paddy. Wheat, sugarcane), and allow them to rot in open fields or exports at throughway prices? And b) since many parts of India are grappling under severe water scarcity, shall we continue with our present pricing of water? Water use efficiency is very low in India and our overall water productivity, as measured by constant 2005 US$ GDP per cubic meter of total freshwater withdrawal, is much lower than the world average and it is also lower than the corresponding figures for developing countries in Latin America and Caribbean and Sub-Saharan African countries. In the absence of full cost pricing of water (e.g., production and distribution cost, resource cost, environmental cost, scarcity value), it cannot promote water use efficiency and therefore, water productivity will remain low in India.
Like scarcity, floods also have substantial economic impacts. Apart from large scale loss of crops and property, livestock and human lives, it results in morbidity due to water borne diseases. The economic, social and environmental costs of floods may not be lower than the cost of constructing flood mitigation infrastructure. Limited storage capacity of our reservoirs and dams, climate variability and high inflow of water during monsoons lead recurrent phenomenon in Indian cities. In many cities, there is no storm water management infrastructure separate from domestic wastewater infrastructure is under stress and not adequate to handle all the waste water generated in the city. Negligence in management of natural drainage channels and traditional water storage structures like rainwater tanks and wetlands further aggravate the problem. Storm water is a valuable freshwater resource and if managed properly, it could reduce dependence of cities on water supply from far away sources. Water footprint of our cities is expanding very fast and in most of the cases, it is far away from the cities Recent blocking of water supply from the Munak canal (in Haryana) and large scale water scarcity in Delhi shows how cities are dependent on far away sources to meet day-to-day water needs.