Yesterday, my dad asked me to ring up the local vendor to deliver a jar of water at my place. While waiting for the delivery I asked my dad if they ever knew water will be sold in 2017. He took a sigh and said that some 200 years ago, even milk was available for free. Then with population growth there was a marginal price to it, a quarter a paisa for a liter of milk. Today it’s being sold at around Rs. 50 per liter. ‘No’, was his answer. He said of all the crisis of their generation, water was never one of them and nor had they seen it coming.
Water availability after Independence was recorded at 5177 m3 per capita, which fell to 1545 m3 per capita in 2011. It is further estimated that by 2050 we will only have half the water needed for our survival. So how did water, which covers two-thirds of our planet and has been the backbone of our civilization, become so scarce?
Rising population can be considered as a main factor behind water scarcity. While the population between 1951 and 2011 increased by 347%, water availability per person declined to almost 36%, reflecting a proportionate decline. Following the current growth rate India is expected to add another 25m people to its economy by 2050, thus adding to the crisis.
To make matters worse, rivers, the main source of water across the country, have been shrinking over the past decades. Ganga, Godawari, Narmada and Kaveri have all shrunk by 40-60%. Further, the rivers are being polluted by human and industrial waste. The problem is also compounded by lack of proper planning for dams and storage. Consequently, the areas reliant on rivers as a water source run the risk of facing acute water crisis.
India is among the top 5 countries for agricultural produce in the world. Agriculture calls for heavy water consumption. After independence several dams and storage facilities were developed to ensure water availability to remote areas around the year for seasonal and perennial crops. However, in the rush to meet the rising demand from a growing population, several establishments have been developed without adequate water infrastructure. Cities like Gurgaon, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad are prime examples of this.
A series of steps need to be undertaken to improve the situation. While it has become imperative to curb population growth, the government does not seem to be taking any concrete measures to curb it. While China on one hand has a one child policy, India is still struggling to cope with taboos surrounding family planning. Any corrective measures even if deployed, will only maintain the situation for the next few decades before the population finally starts to decline at a healthy level.
In order to meet the rising demand, there is a need to preserve and maintain the prime sources of water. Deforestation has led to drought and lack of rainfall in several regions across India. Planting trees across river banks and on empty lands can help stabilize the rainfall and lead to flowing rivers over the next few decades.
There is a need to initiate effective waste disposal measures to check industrial and human waste being dumped in the rivers. This would require fixing the sewage and drainage systems across the country and passing laws that define waste disposal protocols for industries. These further need to be checked for compliance by the government on a regular basis.
When scientists look out for signs of life on exoplanets they look for traces of water. Although our earth has been in existence for 4.5 billion years, life materialized only when the conditions were just right to form water. The first lives emerged in water and crawled over to the land, where they would still search for water. The only places that do not have life are the ones that do not have water. The water scarcity situation in India poses an eminent threat to our existence. This danger is larger than attack from neighboring countries and cuts across economic and cultural divides. The only way to save ourselves and protect our future generations is to raise awareness and persuade the government to initiate concrete steps toward preservation of water and its prime sources, while we stand hand in hand in support.