India lacks a sustainable model to reduce its dependency on water
'Beneath the Surface: The State of the World's Water 2019', a report by NGO WaterAid shows that four billion live in areas of physical water scarcity, where for at least part of the year demand exceeds supply.
Water remains one of the world’s most important public health issues. In India alone, 600 million people face a high-to-extreme water crisis.
Water scarcity is of two types, namely, physical and socio-economic scarcity. Physical scarcity means there isn’t enough water, but socio-economic scarcity means there is water present, although it isn’t available to all because of lack of investment and political will.
The number of people living in physically water-scarce areas is predicted to rise to five billion by 2050. One billion people in India, 900 million in China and 140 million people in Bangladesh face physical water scarcity for some or all of the year.
A nation’s water wealth must not only be determined by its citizens’ access to quality water but also by the amount of its virtual water production.
Water is present in everything we eat, wear, and buy. The sum total of all displacements of water--used in cultivation and production of goods--that happens through a product supply chain is referred to as virtual water.
Virtual water trade refers to the hidden flow of water—in food or other commodities—traded from one place to another. An estimated 22 percent of global water is used in producing goods for export.
Virtual water trade must play a positive role for countries that engage in commodities trade. A sustainable model provides valuable income for exporting countries and enables importing countries to be less dependent on the water within their borders.
For example, Israel discourages exporting oranges to prevent large quantities of water being exported. 460 litres of water is required to produce one kilogram of oranges.
On the contrary, in extreme cases, low-income nations see their water supplies depleted by production for export, even as their own people do not have access to enough clean water for daily use.
India is a country that receives abundant seasonal rainfall and over two-thirds of its population practices agriculture. Yet, India ranks high on the list of countries that is food insecure and water-scarce. “India has failed to modernise its agricultural techniques that reduces its dependency on water,” said Professor S Janakarajan, Madras Institute of Development Studies.
Jyoti Sharma, founder of NGO FORCE said, “At the farmers level, dependency on water resources increases with high rates of water depletion.” She added that at the government’s level, increased investment is needed to localise water supply. “Contamination of water sources despite its availability is of high concern.”
Water-intensive industries such as textiles or tanning pollute water sources. “Almost always, developed countries import leather and textiles. They choose not to pollute their water sources,” said Janakarajan.
Availability of quality water in India
India’s water footprint—the amount of fresh water utilized in the production or supply of goods and services used by a particular person or group—per capita is 3000 litres per day. Cotton fabric grown and produced in India has a water footprint of 22,500 litres per kilogram.
Meanwhile, global groundwater depletion has increased by 22% between 2000 and 2010. India’s rate of groundwater depletion has increased by 23% between 2000 and 2010. It is the third largest exporter of groundwater—12% of the global total and also uses the largest amount of groundwater—24% of the global total.
India ranks 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index. Over 70 percent of the country’s drinking water is contaminated. “Access to drinking water refers to adequacy but more than that, the quality,” said Jyoti Sharma.
Some of the country’s major challenges are reducing the collection of water from unsafe sources, providing water to communities without political influence, and to persuade authorities to finance projects according to actual needs.
By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply. This will lead to a six percent loss in the country’s GDP.
India needs to address water-scarcity in terms of a dual water supply – drinking water and domestic water. Jyoti Sharma said, “Governments just find it easier to dig a bore well. But how long will the water last?”
“Unfortunately, sustainability is not a strong narrative among central and state governments in India,” said Jyoti Sharma. She added that our society has a negative cultural narrative on recycled wastewater.