"The world Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report 2016 recognised water crises as the third risk in a list of top ten risks in terms of impact. A recent World Bank report confirms that climate change will increase water-related shocks on top of already demanding trends in water use.
Water scarcity can result in low productivity and crop failure, leading to food shortages, increasing prices and subsequent hunger.
According to the UN, food output must grow by 60 per cent to feed a population of nine billion or more in 2050. Production of food requires considerable inputs of energy and water, raising challenges of conflicting demands. But by 2030, the world will have to confront a water supply shortage of 40 per cent. Agriculture already accounts for approximately 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals and is perceived as one of the main factors behind the increasing global scarcity of freshwater. In September 2015, the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 6 is dedicated for ensuring access to water and sanitation for all.
In the context of India, challenges for achieving this Goal are immense but possible, provided some steps are taken at the earliest.
India’s Current Water Crisis
A snapshot of the 2016 water crisis in India is given below:
One third of India’s districts are affected by severe drought, affecting some 33 crore people in 256 districts in 10 States.
- In March 2016, only 24 per cent water was left in 91 key reservoirs.
- Since January 2015, around 1,000 farmers have killed themselves due to acute drought and debt in Karnataka.
- Some 1,000 villages in eight districts of Gujarat are suffering from acute drinking water crisis.
- The Bundelkhand districts across Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh continue to reel under the third drought in a row. Almost 50 per cent of its water sources have dried up. Women travel long distances to collect drinking water. Agriculture has failed, leading to mass migration, poverty and hunger.
Shimla, Himachal Pradesh is an example of a hell town facing acute water shortages and Jaundice outbreak due to contaminated water supply.
- There are reports on industrial shutdowns due to shortage of water.
- Tajola, an industrial township is cutting production for two consecutive days in a week. Here, 60-70 per cent units are from water intensive sectors such as fertilisers, chemicals, pharma. Food and beverages and metals.
- Around 13 sugar mills in Sholapur and Marathwada in Maharashtra have shut down. Textile industries and dyeing factories are shutting down production during water cuts.
- Power production was disrupted in Farakka, West Bengal due to water shortage.
For a country blessed with (a) 14 major, 55 minor and 700 small rivers; (b) an annual average rainfall of 1,170 mm; (c) a tradition of rainwater conservation across the country, these crisis could be avoided. The problem here has been more due to water mismanagement than its actual scarcity.
Reversing the Trend: Creating Water Abundance
Concerted, consistent and sustained efforts can lead to drought proofing and creating water abundance. The first step in water management would involve undertaking comprehensive, consistent and constant campaigns to re-establish the relationship between people and water. This would help stakeholders across all sectors internalize that water is a scarce resource. Awareness generation among communities is the prerequisite for water conservation activities.
The movement towards water abundance will require action on many fronts as short and long term measures. Some of these are outlined below.
These steps are important to handle the immediate crises
From drought mitigation committees in the villages: These village committees should comprise of panchayat members and representatives of all interest groups in the village. These committees can take care of, and monitor, drought requirements and management.
- Arrange for tanker water supply where there is drinking water scarcity:
- Arrange for water and fodder for livestock in livestock camps:
Implementation of the Right to Food (RTF): Assess the functioning of the public distribution system (PDS) and other programmes under the RTF and ensure availability of food grains to the affected. This again, is a Supreme Court direction.
Restore/rehabilitate/create water conservation structures: Send a message to the villagers that every drop of rain should not go waste. This monsoon must be harvested.
- Farmers can make madbandhis (boundaries around their field) on their field so that the rainwater can be conserved. A small recharge pit should also be dug to capture the rain. Dugwells should be cleaned and ready to welcome the rains.
- Almost all the villages will have a tank, talab, dug well, or any other structure. All nallahs, streams or rivers should be protected and used for recharge.
- After the monsoon arrives, it is important that villagers map the areas where water floes or collects so that these can be used in the future for creating rainwater conservation structures.
Funds allotted for MGNREGA must be directed towards reviving and creating water conservation structures. There is a need to facilitate smooth and swift transfer of funds to the villagers which is now a Supreme Court order as well. MPLAK and other government funding can be used.
Water Conservation: Cross Country Community Efforts
In drought hit areas, communities have contributed towards creating solutions to save, manage and restore water. A few examples are given below:
Long Term Measures
- In drought hit Bundlekhand, Parmarth, a civil society organisation is supporting resilience amongst the drought affected families through development of more than 100 drought risk reduction plans, rainwater conservation and establishing community and institutional linkages. Jal sahelis (Friends of Water) are managing in-village water supply and water conservation efforts.
- Under Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems (AOFANGS) project implemented in 7 drought prone districts of AP, farmers are managing their groundwater systems and have adopted suitable agricultural options.
- In 2002, drought hit Raj Samadhiyala village in Gujarat, managed to take up three crops a year using the rainwater harvested through the construction of farm ponds, percolation tanks, check dams and sub-surface structures.
- Hiware Bazaar village, Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra, adopted an integrated model of water management wherein, the villagers contributed by providing labour. Annual water budgeting exercise was introduced in 2004.
- Drought prone Laporiya village in Rajasthan has a unique dyke system called the ‘chauka’ to capture rainwater, improving water availability for drinking and harvest.
Long term measures are required for the development of water assets. These will require detailed planning and funds, India is blessed with an annual average rainfall of 1,100 mm, most of which falls in around 100 hours. This primary source of water must be captured either for direct use, or for recharge of groundwater aquifers and surface waterbodies. If rain is not managed well, it leads to flooding during the monsoon and water scarcity in the following months. The option is to capture the rain and create a ‘water bank’ for current and future use.
Artificial Groundwater Recharge: Subsurface Water Banks
The percentage of recharging of groundwater need to be at least doubled. This is easily possible by natural processes and artificially directing rainwater into underground aquifers. Rainwater harvesting and artificial groundwater recharge serves dual purposes: absorbing excess water and releasing it when required. Since the open land mass is declining, especially in urban areas, artificial recharge at scale can greatly help in alleviating water scarcity, reduce flooding and improving water quality.
Artificial groundwater recharge is the infiltration of surface water into shallow aquifers to (a) increase the quantity of water in the subsurface, and (b) improve its quality by natural attenuation processes. It can be practiced in river valleys and sedimentary plains by infiltrating river or lake water into shallow sand and gravel layers. Water can be infiltrated into aquifers through basins, pipes, ditches and wells.
Infiltration also allows for better water management as the level of water between the river and groundwater aquifer can be manipulated during periods of low and high river water discharge. Over time, a balance is struck between the river and the aquifer, allowing for water availability throughout the year. This enables a continuous water supply over the entire year. Generally, artificially recharged groundwater is better protected against pollution than surface water.
River beds offer a great opportunity for recharge. Over time, these will be a balance between the surface and groundwater the year and recharge groundwater aquifers. The Palla floodwater recharge that has been such example.
If done at larger scale, the volume of water that can be saved is enormous. While there are environmental, financial and social issues in constructing artificial storage. Spaces such as dams, recharging groundwater aquifers is a ‘natural’ choice. Artificial recharge, thus, offers a tremendous potential.
Water Conservation: Sectoral Approaches
Some of the steps that can be taken by the agricultural sector – the largest consumer of water and the industry are outlined below.
The agricultural sector has to tackle multiple water related issues- low efficiency in water use – 30-40 per cent for canal irrigation and 60 per cent for groundwater irrigation schemes; declining water availability; increasing food demand due to population increases; changing food habits; commitments under RTF; It is also predicted that water demand for irrigation will rise over time. Some options for increasing water use efficiency in agriculture include:
- Promote agricultural crops which can grow in available water:
Crop like sugarcane and rice require huge amounts of water. These should be grown only in areas where there is sufficient water.
- Adopting Micro Irrigation (MI):
Drip and sprinkler irrigation helps reduce water consumption and can result in savings between 40-80 per cent of water.
- Land and Water Management Practices:
These include integrated practices such as soil-water conservation, adequate land preparation for crop establishment, rainwater harvesting, efficient recycling of agricultural wastewater, conservation, reduce run off and improve soil moisture storage.
- Laser Levelling:
This technique removes unevenness of the soil surface, having significant impact on the germination, stand and yield of crops. It can save around 20-30 per cent of water and enhance outputs by at minimum 10 per cent.
- System of Rice intensification (SRI):
SRI is well known for reducing water requirement by around 29 per days, resulting in increased water productivity of rice. This technology is also useful for sugarcane cultivation.
Industries contribute substantially to the India GDP and their demand for water will increase with the expansion of the industrial sector. Water use by industries has led to misuse and pollution creating a situation of water scarcity and poor water quality.
To begin with, there has to be a change in the way industries perceive water: from the traditional view of water as a cheap resource available in plenty, to one that has competitive users and affects basic human right. Water dependent industries are competing for water with local farmers, households and other users. Fortunately, the risk of water being a scarce resource their water usage in the production process. Companies are eager to reduce their water footprint, get certified for their water responsive behavior and products. Some of the options before the industry are given below.
- Increasing Water Efficiency
Increasing water efficiency is pivotal in reducing water demand. If a systematic approach is followed, the water consumption can be reduced by 25-50 per cent in industrial units. Some of the methods that can reduce water footprint include, change in technology form water cooling to air cooling, replacing of water intensive equipment and fixtures, waste water recycling and reuse into industrial process, and rainwater harvesting and its use.
- Life Cycle Analysis
For obtaining Cradle to Cradle (C2C) certification, there is a need to meet a special criteria for water. Levels – Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum, with industries meeting better water standards at etch level.
- Water Offset
For situations where water consumption cannot be reduced through efficiency improvements, water reuse or recycling, ‘water offsets’ investments to watersheds are adopted. Adoption of water offset would typically involve planting trees or investing in efficiency measures in far off lands.
- The water footprint of a product is the volume of fresh water appropriated to produce the product, taking into account volumes of water consumed and polluted in the different steps of the supply chain.