Water stress

What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India?

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Water stress is a situation in which the water resources in a region or country are insufficient for its needs. Such a situation arises when the demand for water exceeds the available amount or when poor quality restricts its use.

Water stress in India

▪️India is home to nearly 17% of the world’s population but has only 4% of the world’s freshwater resources.

▪️According to NITI Aayog’s Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) report 2018, 21 major cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad are racing to reach zero groundwater levels by 2020, affecting access for 100 million people. Besides, 12% of India’s population is already living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario.

▪️According to the Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas of World Resources Institute, India is ranked 13th among the 17 most water-stressed countries of the world.

This indicates that India is going through water emergency. However, there is regional variation i.e. not all regions are equally water stressed.

▪️While the northwestern and central parts of the country are severely water stressed, the eastern parts receive abundant rainfall for groundwater recharge.

▪️The variation is also at the intra-regional level. For example, the areas in north Bihar struggle due to flooding while that of south Bihar finds it difficult to beat the heat. Flooding in Mumbai has become a regular phenomena while the nearby Vidarbha faces drought.

This uneven distribution of water crisis can be attributed to the following reasons:

▪️Geographical factors

✔️India has diverse physiography, due to which different regions receive varying degrees of rainfall. For example, winter monsoon along the eastern coast and summer monsoon in northern India.

✔️Interior of southern India lies in the rain shadow zone and most of Rajasthan and northern Gujarat have arid climate.

✔️Also, the arid and semi-arid areas of northwestern India and central India are naturally occurring waterstressed areas.

▪️Climatic factors

✔️Changing climate has led to an increase in the frequency and intensity of floods as well as droughts.

✔️Erratic monsoon is causing delayed and infrequent rainfall in different parts of India.

▪️Agricultural practices

✔️In India, agriculture is not practised according to the agro-climatic zone. Groundwater is used to cultivate water intensive crops like paddy and sugarcane in rain deficit states like Punjab and Maharashtra respectively.

✔️State procurement policy and subsidised electricity in Punjab makes it profitable for farmers to produce rice. Similarly, farmers in Maharashtra cultivate sugarcane because they are assured of marketing.

✔️Moreover, flood irrigation is the most common form of irrigation in India which leads to a lot of water loss.

✔️All these have led to excessive groundwater extraction and have made India virtual exporter of water.

▪️Human factors

✔️Rapid urbanization has led to the concentration of population in and around major cities which usually happen to be located in the rainfall deficient regions (like Delhi-NCR).

✔️The situation is aggravated by encroachment, contamination and consequent destruction of water bodies which otherwise help recharge the underground aquifers.

✔️Above all, there is a lack of awareness about water economy which demands judicious use of water.

▪️Way forward

✔️India’s water challenge stems not only from the limited availability of water resources but also its mismanagement.

✔️There is a need to follow conservation agriculture i.e. farming practices adapted to the requirements of crops and local conditions. Cultivation of less water intensive crops like pulses, millets and oilseeds should be encouraged in water stressed regions.

✔️Rainwater harvesting needs to be incorporated with urban development projects. Mission Kakatiya (Telangana), which seeks to restore tanks through community-based irrigation management, is commendable.

✔️Freshwater sources need to be declared as water sanctuaries on the lines of national parks and tiger reserves. Water must be treated as a resource rather than a commodity.

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