Saturday, July 20, 2024

Troubled waters

The problem of water scarcity in India is a complicated one. It is said that the sharp imbalance that exists between the nation’s finite water resources and its rapidly growing populace is at the heart of this problem. India has access to only 4% of the world’s water resources, despite being home to 18% of the world’s population. Historically, India has been highly dependent on the monsoon rains. One extreme monsoon season is enough to cause drought and famine in the country. Climate change has only made it worse. Thus, the exploitation of groundwater across the country has increased to unsafe proportions. Also, growing urbanisation has led to a surge in demand and widespread exploitation of groundwater and surface water resources. According to the NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index, 21 major Indian cities are on the verge of depleting their groundwater. The report, released in 2018, had warned of the worst water crisis in the country. And it’s not limited to the urban centres alone. Government data indicate that over 50% of rural families still do not have access to tap water, despite claims of improvement. Beyond households, another major challenge is ensuring adequate water for industrial and agricultural activities. Approximately 74% of wheat-growing regions and 65% of rice-growing regions of the country are expected to experience severe water constraint by 2030, according to NITI Aayog. Groundwater supplies are reported to meet 80-90% of drinking water needs in rural India. But what is worrisome is that groundwater levels in India declined by over 60% between 2007 and 2017, and of the extracted water, almost 90% is used in agriculture. Around 70% of India’s farming is rain-fed. Yet, 65% of its total rainfall ends up in the sea. Indian cities are home to 36% of the country’s population but account for 70% of water pollution. On a per capita basis, water availability has been declining ~ from 1,816 cubic meters in 2001 and 1,546 in 2011 to 1,367 cubic meters in 2021. In India, the issue of water scarcity is primarily linked to inefficient resource management. Freshwater is contaminated as a result of human use and discharge of untreated water into open channels and freshwater bodies. Reserves of water underground, known as groundwater, are also being over-exploited. When a water source is compromised, it frequently has a negative effect on the large number of people. Employment in water-carrying services, sand mining and fishing is affected. Because of the complexity of the water crisis, no one agency can tackle it on its own. The local community and the Government have a shared obligation to pool resources and collaborate in order to safeguard our limited supply of clean water. Water scarcity has long been an issue in Nagaland as well, particularly in the hilly districts. Reports of the water crisis in Nagaland are usually restricted to Kohima, but the shortage actually extends throughout the hilly areas of the State. Even the plains of Dimapur have recently begun to experience this specific pinch. Our supplies of groundwater are running low. But we do not see any of our leaders ~ political as well as non-political ~ talk about tackling this particular problem. At the heart of the water crisis lies a failure of governance. Water is a finite resource but neither politicians nor Indian Administrative Service officers who form policy acknowledge that fact. They pay lip service to water conservation without existing practices. Our political and civic leaders must work together to increase public awareness, change policies and foster behavioural changes. Plans of water conservation are meaningless unless there is a simultaneous, sustained campaign to address challenges that straddle such spheres as ecology, environment, climate, civic responsibilities and so on. Community-based water management needs to be strengthened and institutionalised. It is important to encourage the long-standing practice of gathering, storing and using rainwater. Additionally, the Government needs to act quickly to renovate, repair and restore traditional water bodies. It is imperative to make difficult choices now before the water shortage crisis gets out of hand.