India has only about 4 per cent of the world’s renewable water resources but is home to nearly 18 per cent of the world’s population. It receives an average annual precipitation of 4,000 billion cubic meters (BCM) which is the principal source of fresh water in the country. India has about 20 river basins. Due to increasing demand for domestic, industrial and agricultural uses, most river basins are water stressed. Increasing demand from a growing population, coupled with economic activity, adds pressure on already stressed water resources. Groundwater plays an important part in India’s economy catering to about 85 per cent of rural demand, 50 per cent urban requirements and more than 60 per cent of our irrigation needs. India experiences both floods and drought periodically.
Nearly a third of the country’s geographical area is droughtprone whereas 12 per cent of the area is prone to floods. Water Pollution Control Act mandated to maintain water quality and restore the wholesomeness of national aquatic resources by preventing pollution. CPCB report indicated that organic pollution (biological oxygen demand and coliform bacteria) continues to be predominant polluters in rivers, lakes, ponds, tanks and groundwater resources. Untreated waste water from urban settlements and industrial establishments are the main reasons for pollution. In the Ganga, discharge of untreated waste along the entire stretch of the river, is the main cause of pollution despite the centrally funded Namami Gange project. The agricultural sector consumes the largest quantity (over 85 per cent) of India’s water.
It has been estimated that by 2050, more than half of India or an estimated 800 million people will be living in urban India. Most urban areas will have to import water from further distances unless measures are taken to improve water use efficiency, reduce leakages, adoption of appropriate water tariff, rehabilitate and recharge local waterbodies in many parts of rural and urban areas. Under the Constitution, the subject “water” is in the state list. However, the Centre has the mandate to resolve conflicts over use of inter-state rivers. The Centre also plans water allocation and provides technical support for large projects in generation of power, irrigation and drinking water. In India, water governance is fragmented which leads to inconsistent water policy between the Union and states.
There is a growing global water crisis. Water crisis has the potential to increase diseases, weaken economic growth, foster social insecurity and state failure. In order to develop a healthier, safer, and more prosperous world, water security must be ensured. People must have sustainable supplies of sufficient quantity and quality of water to meet human, economic and ecosystem needs and manage risks due to floods and droughts. There are four interconnected strategic objectives. The first objective is to provide access to safe drinking water, sanitation services and adoption of key hygiene behaviours. The second is sound management and protection of fresh water resources. The third is to promote cooperation on shared waters; and, the fourth objective is to strengthen watersector governance, financing, and institutions.
For achieving these objectives, technical and technological solutions are required. There must be targeted investments in sustainable infrastructure and services; promote research in science, technology, and dissemination. Active involvement of the stakeholders, collaboration and partnership with national and international organizations and institutions are important. Water stress causes poverty, diseases, food and energy insecurity, migration and political and social tensions, terrorism, hampers economic development, reduces trade and export opportunities. Access to safe water and sanitation are fundamental to sustainable livelihood. Democratic values, basic human rights, equality, transparency, accountability, women’s empowerment can thrive when there is sustainable water security.
Effective water governance needs civil society engagement and resilience at all levels. Adoption of appropriate technologies and best practices can build a water secure world. Sustainable supplies of water in sufficient quantity and quality are essential to meet human, economic, and ecosystem needs. There must be a strategy to manage floods and drought, reduce disease and save lives, eradicate poverty, and promote sustainable economic growth, increase food and energy security. The government and private sector must work in tandem with active participation of the stakeholders to improve water security at the national and states’ level. Water stress is a key factor for malnutrition, water borne diseases, schistosomiasis, malaria, Ebola and Zika.
Access to drinking water and sanitation for women and girls is crucial to preserve basic dignity and enable participation in economic activities. Unless water issues are effectively addressed, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) can decline to 6 per cent as a result of water pollution, increasing demand, and dwindling water supplies. Water is critical to avoid major economic losses. Ensuring sustainable water supplies is vital for local livelihoods, power production, and economic and agricultural activities. Watershed protection and restoration are essential for improving water quality, availability and groundwater recharge, and mitigating floods. Availability of water for agriculture is inevitable for safeguarding food security. Water allocation planning can optimize the benefits of water across competing uses.
Authentic hydro-meteorological data enables effective water resources planning. For efficient water conservation, engaging stakeholders is a must. Integrated water management increases access to sufficient quantity and quality of water supplies to meet basic human needs, support economic growth, food security, and sustainable ecosystems. There must be preparedness for management of water related disasters and hydrometeorological changes. Water is a strategic asset and a national priority. Water disputes can lead to social, economic, and political instability. Water can bring communities together and strengthen regional integration. Water and sanitation issues assume priority in development plans, policies, and strategies. Effective policies, processes, and institutions can only help deliver sustainable water and sanitation services.
Increased capacity, greater investor confidence, sector finance, accelerated coverage of water and sanitation services, and the effective management of watersheds and water resources must be strengthened. Mobilization of public and private resources, institutions, organizations, and partnerships can build capacity and support sound management of water resources. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provides technical assistance to address the entire range of challenges to water resources management. Appropriate policies, institutional support, technical guidance, technological solutions, community participation, public-private partnerships, investment in infrastructure and services can meet the challenges.
Improving agricultural water systems can increase water storage, delivery, navigation, flood protection, food security and energy production. Science, technology and innovation can refurbish water use efficiency. Authentic data exchange and access to data for decision-making can facilitate monitoring and forecasting. Development programmes must focus on meeting the needs of the poor and vulnerable. The perspectives of gender and marginalized population need to be factored in decision-making. Support of local communities, partnering with local organizations and maximum use of indigenous knowledge and experience can strengthen local institutions, agencies, and networks. Expertise, knowledge, and resources can be leveraged by partnerships.
Water mission should aim at reducing the risk of drought and floods through more effective water resources management and disaster monitoring and warning systems. Building healthy ecosystems is a must. Water supply and sanitation systems are critical components of timely responses to natural disasters. Effective measures for prevention of avoidable floods and landslides need to be in place. Community infrastructure projects and irrigation systems must be set up. Open and inclusive policy interventions are necessary to incorporate local ingenuity. Leveraging science, technology, innovation, and partnership can empower people. Adoption of science and technology based innovative solutions and partnership can effectively address cross-cutting development issues.
(The writer is former Director-General, CAG of India. Views are personal)