The Parched Tiger: India’s Looming Water Crisis

Via The Water Network, a look at how poor policies ?have left India in one of ?the worst ?positions in ?the world when ?it comes to ?water stress:

For the ?preparation of ?the annual ?Global Risks ?Report 2016, ?the World ?Economic Forum ?asked 750 ?experts from ?all over the ?world what the ?likely global ?risks are, in ?terms of ?potential ?impacts and ?likelihood, ?over a 10-year ?period. The ?experts had to ?assess 29 ?separate global ?risks in terms ?of their ?importance. ?Failure of ?climate ?mitigation was ?identified as ?the current ?global risk of ?highest concern,? and water ?crises was the ?third most ?pressing ?problem. ?

Climate ?change affects ?the world ?primarily in ?terms of water, ?through both ?flood and ?drought. When ?taking into ?account the ?potential ?impacts over ?the next 10 ?years, nearly ?40 per cent of ?the experts ?selected water ?crises, ?compared to ?some 37 per ?cent opting for ?climate change. ?India is no ?exception to ?this global ?trend. Signs of ?water stresses ?are all over ?the country, ?both in terms ?of availability ?and quality. ?The situation ?in India is ?worse than in ?many other ?countries due ?to decades of ?poor policies ?and practices. ?Sustained ?interest in ?water issues by ?senior ?policymakers ?has been ?conspicuous by ?its absence – ?Indian ?politicians are ?only interested ?in water when ?there are ?serious ?droughts and ?floods. ?

As soon as ?these are over, ?their interest ?simply ?disappears. ?India needs ?water to meet ?its current ?needs, and also ?for 2050 when ?its population ?is predicted to ?increase by ?another 450 ?million, nearly ?one-third more ?than at present.? All these ?additional ?people will ?need food, ?energy, ?industrial and ?economic ?development, ?proper health, ?education ?facilities and ?a good ?environment to ?enjoy a good ?quality of life,? and meeting ?their needs ?will require ?increasingly ?more water. ?

In addition, ?because of ?rapid ?urbanisation ?and the ?information and ?communication ?revolution, ?Indians’ ?expectations ?for progressively ?improved ?standards of ?living are ?increasing – ?they are much ?higher now than ?in 2010, and ?are likely to ?be significantly ?higher again in ?2030. To ?satisfy these ?expectations, ?the present ?generation will ?require even ?more water in ?the future, ?unless water ?management ?practices are ?very significantly ?improved. ?

If India ?continues with ?unsatisfactory ?and unsustainable ?water ?management ?policies, like ?free or highly ?subsidised ?domestic water ?supply, and ?poor operation ?and management ?practices of ?all water ?infrastructure, ?there is no ?doubt that ?within the next ?10-20 years ?many parts of ?the country ?will face ?serious water ?crises. ?Business-as-?usual is no ?longer an ?option. ?

Yet, India´s ?water situation ?need not to be ?so dire. Unlike ?oil, gas and ?all minerals, ?water is a ?renewable ?resource. Oil ?or coal, once ?used, cannot be ?used again. ?With good ?management, ?water can be ?used and ?wastewater can ?be treated and ?reused. With ?existing ?knowledge, ?technology and ?management ?practices, and ?efficient uses ?in all sectors, ?the country ?should have ?enough water to ?last over the ?next several ?decades, to ?meet all ?potential human ?needs. ?

Take urban ?water ?management. ?There is not a ?single city in ?India which ?supplies water ?24 hours a day, ?seven days a ?week, which can ?be drunk ?straight from ?the tap without ?health concerns.? Thus, each ?Indian urban ?household has ?become a mini-?water utility. ?They collect ?water in ?underground ?tanks when they ?receive water ?for a few hours ?each day, and ?then pump it to ?an overhead ?tank. This ?ensures they ?have 24-hour ?water supply. ?Then each ?household ?treats it so ?that it can be ?drunk. Some 10 ?years ago, ?households ?generally used ?simple filters ?for this, now ?the water ?quality is so ?poor that vast ?numbers of ?families are ?using reverse ?osmosis, a ?process that ?can desalinate ?sea water, for ?producing their ?own drinking ?water. ?

Domestic ?water supply in ?India is either ?free or highly ?subsidised. ?However, the ?costs to ?households to ?ensure ?drinkable water ?are quite high. ?

Utilities ?need to devise ?a viable ?financial model ?where only the ?poor pay highly ?targeted ?subsidised ?tariffs, and ?everyone else ?should pay the ?full costs of ?water and ?treating ?wastewater. ?

Urban water ?supply ?management in ?nearly all ?Indian cities ?is very poor. ?Other Asian ?developing ?country cities, ?like Phnom Penh ?and Manila, ?have improved ?their water ?supply system ?immensely. ?Indian cities ?generally lose ?40 to 50 per ?cent of all ?water pumped to ?the consumers ?because of ?leakages and ?bad management ?practices. In ?Phnom Penh, ?such losses are ?approximately 6-?7 per cent. ?India may be an ?emerging ?economic giant ?but its urban ?water ?management ?practices lag ?significantly ?behind other ?smaller and ?less developed ?cities like ?Phnom Penh. ?

In addition, ?nearly all ?water bodies ?within and near ?Indian urban ?centres are ?heavily ?polluted. ?According to ?the Central ?Pollution ?Control Board, ?nearly half of ?the country’s ?445 rivers are ?too polluted ?with organic ?wastes and ?coliform ?bacteria for ?safe consumption.? If other ?pollutants like ?nitrates, ?fluorides, ?hazardous ?chemicals and ?heavy metals ?are considered, ?water from even ?a single Indian ?river cannot be ?drunk without ?extensive ?treatments.

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