HOW TO MEET SEVERE SCARCITY OF WATER IN NEAR FUTURE
World Water Day is held annually on March 22 as a means of focusing attention on the importance of freshwater and advocating for sustainable management of freshwater resources. An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The UN General Assembly responded by designating March 22, 1993 as the first World Water Day (WWD). Each year, WWD highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. In 2013, in reflection of the International Year of Water Cooperation, the WWD is dedicated to the theme ‘Water Cooperation’.
The major task, which the international community is facing today in the field of water resources, is the transfer of committed obligations into concrete actions that need to be implemented on the ground for the benefit of people, ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole. Nurturing the opportunities for cooperation in water management among all stakeholders and improving the comprehension of the challenges and benefits of water cooperation can build mutual respect, understanding and trust among countries and promote peace, security and sustainable economic growth.
As per the UN Water for Life Report, around 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity. By 2025, 1.8 billion people would be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity and two-thirds of the world population could be living under water-stressed condition. With the existing climate change scenario, almost half the world population would be living in areas of high water stress by 2030. It is clear that the world is suffering from water scarcity. The increasing demand for water with a rapidly growing rate of population, inadequate rainfall, uncontrolled use of water and climate change are some of the reasons behind it.
About 70 per cent of the earth surface is covered with water, which amounts to 1,400 million cubic kilometers (m km3). However, 97.5 per cent of this water being seawater, it is salty. Freshwater availability is only 35 m km3 and only 40 per cent of this can be used by human beings. Out of the total fresh water, 68.7 per cent is frozen in ice caps, 30 per cent stored underground and the rest is available on the surface of the earth. Out of the surface water, 87 per cent is stored in lakes, 11 per cent in swamp and 2 per cent in rivers.
Long before, when the population was less and lifestyle was simple, water was available in plenty and was considered as a free resource. However, with the growing demand for water and depletion of the available water, assured supply of good quality water is becoming a growing concern. Major consumption of water is for agriculture, industrial production and domestic purposes, besides being used for fishery, hydropower generation and maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance. With the urbanisation and industrial development, water usage is likely to increase in the coming years.
India is blessed with good rainfall well-distributed over five to six months in a year. It receives most of its water from south-west monsoon which is the most important feature controlling the Indian climate. The rainfall distribution over the country shows large variations in the amount of rainfall received by different locations, e.g., the average rainfall is less than 13 cm over the western Rajasthan while at some parts of Meghalaya it is as much as 1141 cm. As per the Metrological Department, India’s annual rainfall is around 1182.8 mm.
The country’s total available sweet water is 4,000 billion m3 per annum. Out of this, over 1,047 billion m3 water is lost due to evaporation, transpiration. Presently, water consumed in India is 829 billion m3 which is likely to increase to 1,093 billion m3 in 2025 and 1,047 billion m3 in 2050, as officially estimated. The growing population is a serious concern as it will create further burden on the per capita water availability in future and India is bound to face severe scarcity of water in the near future.
In spite of adequate average rainfall in India, there is a large area under the less water conditions/drought prone. There are a lot of places where the quality of groundwater is not good. Some major reasons behind water scarcity are population growth and agriculture, increasing construction activities, massive urbanisation and industrialization, climatic change, depleting of natural resources due to changing climate conditions, deforestation and lack of implementation of effective water management systems.
The foremost result of the increasing population is the growing demand for more food-grains, especially high-yielding crop varieties. Another area of concern is the water-intensive industries and thermal power plants. That is why there is an urgent need to address the issue of water scarcity in India to make better policy decisions which would affect its availability in future.
There are many habitations in Odisha that do not meet the norm of 40 liters per capita per day (lpcd). In a number of areas, tube-wells stop yielding water during summer and sometimes even before this. The problem occurs when the water-table falls below the level to which the tube-well has been dug.
Because of population growth and economic development, water resources in many parts of the world are pushed to their natural limits. In turn, the ability of cities and countries to grow, attract investment, meet the fundamental needs of populations and ensure environmental protection would be increasingly threatened if water resources are not managed.
Water scarcity is both a natural and a human-made phenomenon. There is enough freshwater on the planet, but it is distributed unevenly and too much of it is wasted, polluted and unsustainably managed.
Presently, despite good rainfall distribution, the country is unable to make good use of rainwater because of lack of awareness and poor infrastructure to construct dams, reservoirs and proper water harvesting system.
The water supply in India is going to be a serious challenge due to various reasons. Overexploitation of groundwater is another concern. Activities such as percolation tanks, water reservoirs and construction of small and medium-size dams and rivers can retain more surface water, while increasing the ground water recharge.
Development of watershed is an important programme to make best use of rainwater for agricultural production while improving soil conservation and biodiversity. It is, therefore, necessary to prevent this crisis by making best use of the available technologies and resources to conserve the existing water resources and make efficient use of water for agriculture, industrial production and human consumption. Imposing regulatory measures to prevent the misuse of water would be helpful in conserving water. Finally, awareness and orientation of all the water users to change their lifestyles to conserve water can help tide over the water crisis in the future. The challenge is manageable provided we have favourable policies and mechanisms to persuade our people to change their lifestyles.
Water resources management issues must be addressed at the local, national and international levels. All stakeholders, including those in government, international organisations, private sector and civil society, should be engaged, paying special attention to work towards water cooperation.
Water is a key to sustainable development; it has value from social, economic and environmental perspectives and needs to be managed within sound, integrated socioeconomic and environmental frameworks. It is impossible to maintain the integrity of a balanced ecosystem without an overall strategy on water resources management. We all have a shared responsibility for protecting the environment surrounding rivers and their associated watersheds.