S.K.Khanna

Water Woes

Many years ago Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the author of the longest poem in English language, 'the Rime of the Ancient Mariner' reflected the people's water woes around him stating painfully; Water, Water Everywhere, but not a drop to drink! If he was alive today noticing the current grim water situation across the globe due to the scarcity of water exacerbated by climate change, he would have described people's water woes differently; Water, Water, no where...!

World Bank in its latest report on water scarcity across the globe has aptly stated, water scarcity is a major threat to economic growth and stability around the world and climate change is making the problem worse.

If countries do not take action to better water management resources, there could be long period of negative economic growth in various regions, countries should enact policies that will help them manage water sustainability for years ahead, the report concludes.

India on its part is facing a dire need for greater efficient water management and its storage capacity with rainfall deficit exacerbating drought conditions. Our per capita availability of fresh water has declined sharply from 3,000 cubic metres to 1,123 cubic metres over the past 50 years. We lost approximately two-third of the new water storage capacity due to excessive siltation and improperly managed run-off. Between 1992 and 2005, nearly 200 large and medium–sized irrigation projects were constructed, yet the area irrigated by such projects shrank by 3.2mn hectares. The water canal system as being operated in the country has been misused by high ups in the states due to water siphoning and absence of embankments.

Jaldoot Water Train
50 wagon train - Jal Doot carrying 25 lakh litres of water to Latur

Experts believe that holding meteorological and natural factors alone responsible for this state of affairs would be a half the truth. As a matter of fact, water shortage is also a result of faulty water extraction, improper storage and poor storage infrastructure, wasteful and excess usage.

Water Shortage
Drop of Life: Water shortages could take a toll on sectors ranging from agriculture to energy.
As per CWC report, country's water storage capacity is limited to mere 253 billion cubic metre, (bcm). India gets around 2,600 bcm of rain and snow melt even in a bad year, while it needs around 11,100 bcm to meet its requirements, the rest of water gets drain off. The solution lies in building check dams to ensure that monsoon water do not drain off and also building more dams, recommends CWC.

Water scarcity is most acute in rural India, where one can still see village women clutching and balancing their earthen pots on their heads and track 3-4 km distance a day to fetch water from the village wells. On days, it could be 3-4 trips to the village well, drenching in rain or sweating in sunshine. That is a poignant image emerging from every village and reflects the difficult odds under which the rural India manages their water requirements.

At the other end with mercury soaring high across the country, water storage availability at India's 91 major dams and reservoirs has dipped to 37.92 billion cubic metres, which is just 24% of total capacity of these reservoirs. The decline of water availability this year is attributed to less rainfall also, however, it is expected that these reservoirs will get enough water after June. The excessive use of deep bore wells to extract ground water has eroded the capacity of aquifers to replenish. Lack of innovative water harvesting techniques and related factors have depleted the water table. It has been estimated that more than 13 states and 400 million people are affected by water woes in the country. According to a study by Assocham, the impact on the economy could be no less than Rs.6.5 lakh crore as over 54crore farmers and rural populations across the country are in the grip of this crisis.

Water shortage could hurt the industry and agriculture output. With civic bodies imposing cuts on water supply to industrial belts, the resultant shortage could pull down index of industrial production by about 40-50 basic points. In addition there could be much adverse impact on the agriculture sector.

To minimize country's water woes, the need of the hour is to have a comprehensive policy of integration and intervention, recharging and exploitation of ground water. At the national level, it is a good move to have large scale national projects like the National River Linking project. From time to time the Government has been re-orienting its policies focusing on promotion of new irrigation and water harvesting techniques. The government is doing a good job by building workable micro-irrigation projects and restarting stalled irrigation projects. These aspects were comprehensively covered in the April 2016 issue of NBM&CW.

Tribal Women Children
Tribal women and children negotiate their way through a narrow path uphill in a long water from a hill stream near Killoguda, a village near Araku in the Eastern Ghats in Andhra Pradesh. Clean water is a scare commodity in the tribal areas of the Eastern Ghats where waterborne diseases are rampant.
It was quite thoughtful on the part of government to have transported large quantities of water through a special train, responding to the distress call of over 4 lakh population of Latur in Maharashtra. For the first time in the history of Indian Railways, it operated a 50 wagon train-Jal Doot-- transporting 25 lakh litres of water (450 tankers) to the drought –hit area in the state. There are standing instructions from the Centre to the IR to be ready for rushing water to the parched and dry areas through such special trains and respond to such calls from the states speedily.

At the industry level, given the risk water depletion poses to the business, the industry has begun to take action to save water. Conservation strategies of companies like Infosys, Mahindra and Mahindra, Ambuja Cements, DMRC and couple of others as per published reports, offer a glimmer of hope that industry is proactively adopting a pragmatic strategy of reducing consumption of water, and are reusing and recycling techniques at their end. More and more companies are setting up sewage treatment and effluent plants. As per reports, companies like Mahindra and Mahindra and Infosys have been investing Rs.5 – 7 crore a year towards building proper infrastructure to conserve water. These measures taken by the industry would go a long way to conserve water. In view of water scarcity being faced by the power plants, the Power Ministry is preparing a national road map for setting up water processing facilities. In mean time, India has signed a $100 million (about Rs.677 crore) loan pact with World Bank for the Karnataka urban water supply modernization project. The project seeks to provide regular piped water supply in various cities of the state.

Lake For Groundwater Recharge at Infosys Campus
A lake for groundwater recharge at an Infosys campus

The water supply chain requires innovative solutions and presents an enormous business opportunity to entrepreneurs and investors to chip in.

Country men, let us take a pledge that we will not let even a drop of water go waste during monsoon season –Prime Minister.

At the grass root level in rural India, people especially women and children despite walking miles to fetch water are taking measures to minimize their water woes without the help and support of state. A 40 year old farmer from a small village in Maharashtra has sold a large chunk of his farm land to build a dam for the village after he got no help or aid from the state. Construction of dam was started in March through the free of charge help from the locals. The dam is expected to be ready before monsoon. In a village in Rajasthan, a collective effort by 400 families has revived a traditional water harvesting system. Not only the village has enough water for its use, it even supplies water to surrounding villages. Villagers in Marathwada follow strict rules about usage of water. Households have water metres and the entire village recycles every drop of it generates. The village has successfully introduced and installed water ATM machines. Through ATM cards, the gram panchayat provides 20 litres of filtered water free to all 600 families. Additional filtered water is available through metred water which is chargeable. In the coastal areas, the states are encouraging companies to set up new facilities and expand the capacities of existing treatment plants to convert sea water for drinking purposes. In a tribal village in Madhya Pradesh, for the past several months, 50-60 tribals have been toiling tirelessly to construct check dam over a stream. The structure—measuring 40mts and 16 feet wide--- is almost ready without any help from the government. We been battling drought and water scarcity for many years and as the government help did not come, we decided to construct the check dam ourselves, said the leader of the group.

Water Chart
In a nationwide appeal to all, the PM has directed all states to prepare a weekly action plan on shortage and a scarcity of water, conservation efforts and usage of existing water resources optimally. With large swathe of the country reeling under severe heat and drought conditions, the PM has called for collective efforts to conserve water in every village which in turn will recharge the ground water and wells. As a matter some of these measures/practices date earlier era when we had built tanks, water channels, step wells, shallow wells and similar structures as technological solutions to conserve and preserve water. Over the period sadly we have destroyed these systems. The focus of PM message was synthesis of old and new technology to solve the current water crisis.

Tackling water shortage and scarcity is indeed a huge task and calls for collective measures to solve it. The demand for water is ever increasing while its supplies remains finite as climate change shifts rainfall pattern. Sustainable water management requires urgent man made solutions and immediate steps needs to be taken to fix some lopsided priorities before we get further closer to the most acute crisis---Water, water, nowhere. Not a drop to drink…!

One hopes that new water policy would address itself to these facts and wake up to adopt an integrated and holistic approach to diffuse the current situation without further compounding the nation's water crises.