India is frittering away its most precious natural bounty at a chivalrous pace – Water. While increasing number of lungs in the subcontinent is sucking away big holes in our oxygen reservoir, putting it at the forefront of the eco-agenda. Water, like a distant cousin is not even on the environmental radar of our country.
There are almost 6000 water blocks in our country and almost 30% of these precious blocks are in the category of semi-critical, critical or overexploited. CGWA (Central Ground Water Authority) and other bodies like this are toothless in the absence of competent office holders and even more so with no resources at disposal to execute even the simplest of water conservation plans. What is even more startling is that less than a dozen states have a functioning water policy on paper – It needs to be mentioned that water is a state subject.
A loss in equilibrium under any condition results in a stress. Water stress is the outcome of unilateral and unsustainable extraction of freshwater reservoirs of this planet – not to mention the unscrupulous interference with the water cycle. I know that this will not be pleasant to your ears if you are a builder, a distilled water manufacturer, a soft drink plant owner or even a new age agriculturalist. Figures and facts indicate that the major water suction points are created by the above mentioned industrial blocks.
Freshwater, unlike its other natural counterparts (air, solar energy and tidal energy) is not an infinite alternative energy resource, but rather a very limited output of a complex natural process. Nature has not opened the doors of freshwater to mankind – only 2.5 of entire terrestrial water resource is available as freshwater….This water bank is further slotted into the following natural pockets…
- 97.5 % of the global water is salt water – unsuitable for human human consumption
- 2 /3 of the total freshwater volume is locked up in ice and snow
- Evaporation is a major component of water cycle (land & sea water). Nature disproportionately deposits 80% of the the precipitation (rain) over the sea (poor land is left high & dry)
- Only 40% of all the rain which falls over land finds its way into the terrestrial reservoirs which can be used for human consumption – The rest are absorbed for agricultural usage.
World VS India – The water landscape
Major Water Consumers
The hydrological mapping of India by NASA (GRACE Satellite) presents a very dry picture of the Indian subcontinent – with the densely populated terrain of Northern India (Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana) having the fastest receding water tables in the country. The aquifers are being drained dry by the croplands of wheat, rice, barley and sugarcane. These account for almost 95% of the groundwater usage in the region.
The GRACE pictures have established that the groundwater levels have been declining by an average of one foot per year (1 meter / 3 years) – This translates into a loss of 109 cubic km (26 cubic miles) of groundwater between 2002 – 2008. The above figures are also indicative of a similar trend across the rest of India. It is hard to swallow the fact that India is the largest consumer of ground water in the world (230 cubic KM of ground water) every year – more than 25% of the global ground water reservoir.
The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global food production must rise by 70% by 2050 – which means a further dent in the limited freshwater global reservoir.
This lands the Indian water planners in a very unenviable situation – with water tables crying for help on the one hand and increasing demand for agricultural productivity on the other – the recovery mission revolves around less than 1% of freshwater at our disposal.
Vinod Goyal of National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology, IARI, said, “India is supporting 16 per cent of world’s population with just 4 per cent of water.”
In the pipeline
Nature’s benevolence has been taken for granted for centuries and we might be staring at mega-droughts across large parts of India in a very short time – freshwater replenishment will be more than a herculean exercise. This long drawn battle needs to be fought at all levels of water drainage. Since agriculture forms the biggest water consumption block, consistent and simple practices like drip and sprinkle irrigation, channel system and mixed cropping pattern will go a long way in healing the wound.
Water Credit: Point to be noted
According to International Energy Agency – ” World primary energy demand will increase by 36% between 2008 and 2035.”This surge in global requirements will continue to get bigger even when we as a civilization are making huge strides in the area of renewable energy sector – but, projections indicate a greater dependence on water-intensive mining and power generation in coming years. In terms of freshwater usage, we can expect a 50 – 60% surge in demand by 2030. The demand for freshwater supply will gradually cross the tipping point – exceeding the supply by more than 50%.
Water accountability needs to be part of the thought process as well as the industrial modus operandi. A good start can be made in this direction by introducing the concept of ‘Water credit’ (just like the Carbon credit) – this needs to move beyond the consideration stage to implementation stage. At this point of time, a National water credit policy can be launched without going for an international consensus.
·Construction projects should have a mandatory rainwater harvesting system
·Implement efficient, sustainable and affordable water usage and effluent practices in urban and rural areas
·Take phased approach to implementing the NRLP (National River Linking Project)
·Install tools / systems (just like electric meters) to measure water usage & conservation – measure the water footprint of every household
·Implement mandatory policy for recycling and treatment of industrial wastewater
·Associate subsidies and tax waivers for the sustainable water practices
·In a way, create a viable platform for implementing water credit system across all industry segments (just like carbon credit)
·Make rainwater harvesting and watershed management compulsory for the farming sector
·Implement water pricing models based on water usage
·Provide subsidies and farm related credits based on the adoption of sustainable water practices