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Water, Water, Everywhere, Nor Any Drop To Drink… SDG 6 and India

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Pooja Paswan
October 13, 2019

“Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.”
Samuel Taylor Coleridge

India is facing one of its major and most serious water crises. After two consecutive years of weak monsoons, 330 million people—a quarter of the country’s population—are affected by a severe drought. With nearly 50% of India grappling with drought-like conditions, the situation has been particularly grim this year in the western and southern states that received below average rainfall.

According to the report released by the Niti Aayog in 2018, 21 major cities (Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and others) are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access for 100 million people.

However, 12% of India’s population is already living the Day Zero scenario, thanks to the trifecta, including excessive groundwater pumping, an inefficient and wasteful water management system and years of deficient rains. The report also states that by 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6% loss in the country’s GDP.

Do we have a strong political will?

The second term of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government placed a high priority on conservation of ground water, urging people to conserve water amidst the country’s water crisis. The Union government recently formed a new Jal Shakti (water) ministry, which aims at tackling water issues with a holistic and integrated perspective on the subject. The ministry has announced an ambitious plan to provide piped water connections to every household in India by 2024.

Best Laid Plans

As ambitious as it sounds, and true to form, the ministry has set a tough target at a time when hundreds of millions don’t have access to clean water. Aiming at laying huge pipeline networks for water supply means that yet again, we are giving more preference to infrastructure. Also, the moot questions are:

  • What will happen if there is no water to supply?
  • What will happen to all the wastewater that gets generated?

This indicates that there is a clear disconnect between water, society and economy. Currently, we are interested in laying large networks, constructing huge storage dams and fetching water from 150 kilometers and above, which involves a huge carbon footprint.

We are valuing land more than water and neglecting our local water bodies, which have either gone dry or encroached. Also, in many Indian cities, water is not properly distributed. Some areas of mega cities like Delhi and Mumbai are privileged to get more that than the standard municipal water norm of 150 litres per capita per day (lpcd) while other areas get 40-50 lpcd.

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that an individual requires around 25 litres of water daily for meeting his or her basic hygiene and food needs. The rest is used for non-potable purposes like mopping and cleaning. This indicates that for most of the non-potable uses, a quality lower than drinking water is required. Thus, for economic efficiency and environmental sustainability, water must be treated and supplied according to usage.

To top this are issues of leakage losses, water pricing and metering of water. Lack of properly maintaining existing infrastructure causes further losses of almost 40% of piped water in urban areas.

Whose problem is it anyway?

Water is a state subject under the jurisdiction of the state government. A strong and committed cooperative federalism is imperative to achieve the goals. The biggest consumer of groundwater is agriculture. About roughly 70% of India’s rural population is dependent on agriculture. Both farmers and the state government will have to work towards optimal recharging and utilization of the groundwater. The utilization of water in India is the least productive as far as agriculture sector. It requires 5600 litres (1479.3 gallons) of water for growing a kilogram of paddy compared China’s requirement of 350 litres (92.4 gallons). India has to increase its water use efficacy, by reducing water consumption in agriculture by a minimum of 20%. Just as the state of Haryana has introduced crop diversification, Maharashtra has introduced drip irrigation of sugarcane farming which consumes 80% of irrigation water in the state.

Another issue which prevails is the contamination of groundwater with arsenic nitrate and fluorite pollution in the Gangetic region.  The tributaries of some of the major rivers like Ganga and Yamuna are highly polluted. The Union government has keenly directed its interest in the inter linking of rivers by identifying 30 links where water can be transferred.

Half of India is water-stressed. The Modi government needs to keep up its current enthusiasm and its upbeat tempo in order to continue with its consistent progress in the area of water conservation. In order to ensure its commitment towards achieving the 17 SDGs and the SDG 6 in particular, a strong determined citizen participation is needed. In the words of W.H. Auden, we mustn’t forget that, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”


Author: Pooja Paswan is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India. She has Ph. D in Public Administration and specializes in Public Policy. She was recipient of the ASPA 2019 Founders Fellow. She has worked extensively in the area of development administration and policy. She can be reached at https://jmi.academia.edu/PoojaPaswan and [email protected]. Twitter @poojapaswan

 

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