Despite water being an existential need for humans, it’s also one of the most under prioritized but over abused commodity. Water is central to our lives but has not been the central point of focus in our planning while we rapidly evolve into an urban society.
Through time, early societies understood the importance and need for water and planned their lives around it. Civilizations were born and lost on account of water. Today, we have the advantage of this knowledge and we still fail to value it and plan our societies around it.
Let’s focus on India. The world’s oldest civilization grew around the Indus and the Ganges and is still thriving. But not for long. Post-independence, due importance was given to harnessing the power of water by way of controlling and storing of water through large Dams. That was the need of the hour. However, our cities and towns have subsequently grown without planning for water need vs water availability. In 1951, the per capita water availability was about 5177 m3. This has now reduced to about 1545 m3 in 2011 (Source: Water Resources Division, TERI)
Reasons behind water scarcity in India
The water scarcity is mostly man made due to excess population growth and mismanagement of water resources. Some of the major reasons for water scarcity are:
Inefficient use of water for agriculture. India is among the top growers of agricultural produce in the world and therefore the consumption of water for irrigation is amongst the highest. Traditional techniques of irrigation causes maximum water loss due to evaporation, drainage, percolation, water conveyance, and excess use of groundwater. As more areas come under traditional irrigation techniques, the stress for water available for other purposes will continue. The solution lies in extensive use of micro-irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation.
Reduction in traditional water recharging areas. Rapid construction is ignoring traditional water bodies that have also acted as ground water recharging mechanism. We need to urgently revive traditional aquifers while implementing new ones.
Sewage and wastewater drainage into traditional water bodies. Government intervention at the source is urgently required if this problem is to be tackled.
Release of chemicals and effluents into rivers, streams and ponds. Strict monitoring and implementation of laws by the government, NGOs and social activists is required.
Lack of on-time de-silting operations in large water bodies that can enhance water storage capacity during monsoon. It is surprising that the governments at state levels has not taken this up on priority as an annual practice. This act alone can significantly add to the water storage levels.
Lack of efficient water management and distribution of water between urban consumers, the agriculture sector and industry. The government needs to enhance its investment in technology and include all stakeholders at the planning level to ensure optimization of existing resources.
The problem has been compounded with increased concretization due to urban development that has choked ground water resources. Water is neither being recharged nor stored in ways that optimizes its use while retaining the natural ingredients of water. In addition, the entry of sewage and industrial waste into water bodies is severely shrinking the availability of potable water. Marine life is mostly lost in these areas already. This is the genesis of a very serious emerging crisis. If we do not understand the source of the problem we will never be able to find sustainable solutions.
As an example, take Hyderabad. This city of Nizams had several water aquifers and water bodies through time. Osmansagar and Himayatsagar lakes were built and have been providing drinking water to the city for well over a hundred years. Excess migration of population to the city coupled with unplanned construction in all directions, resulted in traditional aquifers, which existed in and around the city, being blocked.
There are over 50,000 bore wells operated by the state owned HMWS&SB and private owners that have been drawing ground water. The levels have now fallen significantly. If the ground water cannot recharge, the supply will get only get worse. The demand for water continues to grow while the collection, storage, regeneration and distribution has become over stressed. The story repeats itself across urban centers in India.
Solutions to overcome water scarcity problems
A simple addition of a ‘water free’ male urinal in our homes can save well over 25,000 liters of water, per home per year. The traditional flush dispenses around six liters of water per flush. If all male members including boys of the house use the ‘water free urinal’ instead of pulling the traditional flush, the collective impact on the demand for water will reduce significantly. This must be made mandatory by law and followed up by education and awareness both at home and school.
The amount of water that is wasted during dish washing at home is significant. We need to change our dish washing methods and minimize the habit of keeping the water running. A small step here can make a significant saving in water consumption.
Every independent home/flat and group housing colony must have rain water harvesting facility. If efficiently designed and properly managed, this alone can reduce the water demand significantly.
Waste water treatment and recycling for non-drinking purposes. Several low cost technologies are available that can be implemented in group housing areas.
Very often, we see water leaking in our homes, in public areas and colonies. A small steady water leak can cause a loss of 226,800 liters of water per year! Unless we are aware and conscious of water wastage we will not be able to avail the basic quantity of water that we need to carry on with our normal lives.
The time to take initiative has arrived.