The challenge of water insecurity

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Kota Sriraj
The impending water crisis is already evident in various parts of the country. This, combined with effects of climate change can worsen the quality of life. The time is ripe for the Government to bring radical changes in its water policies
Water insecurity is fast emerging as a daunting challenge with some 1.1 billion people having inadequate access to clean water in the Asia Pacific region alone. India especially is exceedingly being left high and dry, literally. In northern India, groundwater supplies are being depleted faster than natural processes and good monsoons can replenish them.
According to the World Bank, India is the largest user of ground water after China and if the pace of extraction continues an estimated 114 million Indians will soon face desperate domestic, agricultural and industrial water shortages. These conditions combined with other effects of climate change can worsen the quality of life besides increasing conflicts over natural resources.
Human activities, especially agricultural over-exploitation, lack of sustainable water management policies and insufficient public investment has exacerbated an already worsening water resources scenario. Rapid population growth coupled with climate change has compounded the problem. Groundwater serves as a vital buffer against the volatility of monsoon rains, and India’s falling water table, therefore, threatens catastrophe. Sixty per cent of north India’s irrigated agriculture is dependent on groundwater, as is 85 per cent of the region’s drinking water.
The World Bank predicts that India only has 20 years before its aquifiers reach a critical condition – when demand for water will outstrip supply – an eventuality that will devastate the region’s food security, economic growth and livelihoods. Water is an economic resource that is capable of generating livelihood and good life provided it is managed equitably and efficiently. In these challenging circumstances, India must practice good governance that can foster water security especially in the context of climate change and ensure a water secure society in which every person has reliable access to safe water at an affordable price to lead a healthy, dignified and productive life.
To bring about water security, India must adopt measures that can address pressing problems. Water wastage is one of them. Nearly 70 per cent of drinking water is unaccounted for mainly due to old and leaking distribution systems. One of the key reasons for this is that India has chronically under-invested in water infrastructure and building institutions for water resources, supply and demand management. This eventually manifests in the form of water loss.
In order to minimise wastage and increase efficiency in water management the Government needs to introduce radical changes in its water policies. This can be initiated by charging the real costs of providing water. Introduction of progressive pricing policies that on the one hand recognise the basic need of water for human existence and on the other progressively charge those who over use or waste it will alter the public perception regarding water and encourage households, industries and agriculturists to be more eco-efficient in using water.
Progressive water pricing policies will also increase the financial resources available to invest in rehabilitating and modernising India’s water infrastructure.
These measures will gradually increase India’s water resource resilience and foster water security. Additionally, the Government can rope in local communities, private sector and civil society in promoting water conservation and reuse. Media campaigns to save water and the use of simple technologies such as drip agriculture, climate appropriate cropping, rainwater harvesting and grey water reuse can go a long way in increasing water eco-efficiency.
The strategy for ensuring water security is incomplete without having wastewater treatment and its reuse as a critical aspect. India currently has inefficient and outnumbered wastewater treatment plants that are simply unable to handle the volume of wastewater generated.
Currently, 80 per cent of the wastewater comprising of pollution and toxic compounds is discharged into open areas in the process destroying both the surface and ground water resources besides damaging the coastal areas. In order to remedy this, the Government must implement ‘polluter pays’ principle, particularly while dealing with industrial and commercial units.
The monetary expense of causing pollution will act as a natural deterrent for the polluter.
India is a world leader in information technology and provides technology services to the developed nations. The Government must harness the same ingenuity to innovate low cost wastewater treatment. Effective use of technology can transform wastewater into a resource thereby allowing the partial cost recovery of treatment from selling its by products.
Water resources across the world face an uncertain future thanks to climate change, in fact the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports indicate that 93 per cent of the impact of climate change will be on water related issues. Water security is possible only if water management and usage is made efficient and wastage free besides making our water resources more adaptive and responsive to
unforeseen and rapidly changing situations.

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