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Editorial Today – Issue of Water Scarcity

What is water scarcity?
The word water scarcity describes the relationship between demand for water and its availability. Water scarcity can be determined as both the availability of water and its consumption patterns. There are several factors that influence the availability and consumption of water. Hence the definition for the availability and consumption is different in various regions.  Because of these factors water scarcity will vary widely from country to country and from region to region within a country. Therefore it is little difficult to adopt a global figure to indicate water scarcity.

Thus the incidence of drought can no longer be considered a rare event. Climate change has quickened the occurrence of extreme events such as drought, floods and cyclones in different parts of India. It is alarming that the frequency and severity of such extreme events has increased in recent decades.

Severe drought conditions are being experienced in some parts of the country this year as well. More than 50 per cent of the districts across the country have had rainfall deficit, many in tandem with high temperatures of above 45 degrees Celsius. The most severely affected States include Maharashtra, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Telangana. Given the current scenario, the government has initiated drought relief programmes to compensate crop losses, encourage judicious use of groundwater, and has sent ‘water trains’ to the highly water-scarce areas besides extending financial help to the States to cope with the emerging crisis.

But these measures are temporary and the problem is deep rooted which would have adverse impact on agriculture.
As the water table is on decline and also there is low capacity of water reservoirs, irrigation would contribute little to help in the drought conditions.

Scaling up irrigated area
There is massive increase in real public investment in major, medium and minor irrigation but there is not any increase in the total net irrigated area, which has been hovering around 63 million hectares and constitutes only 45 per cent of the total area sown in the country.

Some improvement in irrigation intensity has taken place in Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in recent years.
Evidence shows that the ratio of irrigation potential created from public expenditure is higher for minor irrigation projects than medium and large irrigation projects. Unfortunately, minor irrigation projects have received only scant attention from policymakers over time. Minor irrigation structures play a significant role in recharging of wells, drought mitigation and flood control.

Indian scenario
The thirst of water for India’s rapid development is growing day by day. In spite of adequate average rainfall in India, there is large area under the less water conditions/drought prone. There are lot of places, where the quality of groundwater is not good.  Another issue lies in interstate distribution of rivers. Water supply of the 90% of India’s territory is served by inter-state rivers. It has created growing number of conflicts across the states and to the whole country on water sharing issues. Some of the major reasons behind water scarcity are;

  1. Population growth and Food production (Agriculture)
  2. Increasing construction/ infrastructure development Activities
  3. Massive urbanization and industrialization throughout the country
  4. Climatic change and variability- Depleting of natural resources due to changing climate conditions (Deforestation etc.)
  5. Lack of implementation of effective water management systems

Rainfall is the major source of water:
India receives most of its water from south-west monsoon which is the most important feature controlling the Indian climate. There is about 75% of the annual rainfall is received during a short span of four months between June to September. As far as rainfall distribution over the country concern, it shows large variations in the amounts of rainfall received by different locations.

But global warming has adversely affected the monsoon pattern.

Long-term remedial options

  1. Increased water conservation and promoting cultivation of less water-intensive crops can go a long way towards coping with the crisis.
  2. Adopt drought-resistant crop varieties as has been done in some parts of Odisha for paddy/rice through the help of the International Rice Research Institute. This can maintain productivity and income of the farmers and also ensure price stability to the consumers.
  3. Micro irrigation system comprising drip and sprinkler irrigation has greater potential to improve water use efficiency in agriculture. Studies show that micro irrigation system helps save water, reduce cost of cultivation and improve crop yield.

However, among others, high initial capital cost, suitability of designs to different soil conditions, problems in receiving subsidy and small holdings are reportedly affecting the adoption of this technology.

India has also partnered with Israel, a water-scarce country, to learn and adopt innovative strategies to harness rainwater and other irrigation technology like drip irrigation technique. Small vegetable-growing farmers near Solan, Himachal Pradesh, have long adopted Israel’s water-saving technology through the assistance of the Mother Dairy retail chain that procures their fresh produce. It is an opportune time to scale up technology adoption.

The Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana is a good policy initiative that would accelerate public investment in both micro and macro irrigation.

  1. India should look into its virtual water export

A nation’s virtual water export is a measure of its exports of water-intensive products such as farm produce — everything from cotton to mangoes. The analysis of global water use indicates that 90 per cent of India’s gross virtual water exports relate to food products

Though the exports bring in foreign currency, which is good, but much of the export flows are not sustainable because the water used for the exports is exploited in an unsustainable way.

  1. Finally, the shortage of drinking water can be addressed through promoting conservation and generating awareness among people to use the scarce resource with utmost care.

Why should India address water scarcity?

  1. India’s population is expected to increase along with its share of urban population. First and foremost result of the increasing population is the growing demand for more food-grains and allied agricultural produce. For example Rice, wheat and sugarcane together constitute about 90% of India’s crop production and are the most water-consuming crops is expected to increase.
  2. Another area of concern is the water Intensive Industries. India’s economic growth has been gargantuan in the last decade. Foreign direct investment equity inflow in the industrial sector has grown. Steel and energy sector will need to keep pace in order to fulfill the demands of sectors like manufacturing and production. Annual per capita consumption of power is expected to reach its maximum level as compared to present installed power generation capacity. As per the ministry of power, thermal power plants which are the most water-intensive industrial units, constitute around 65% of the installed power capacity in India. Industrial water consumption is expected to shoot up its growth.

All of this will result in increased consumption of water. That is why there is urgent requirement to address the issue of water scarcity in India to make better policy decisions which will affect its availability in future.

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  • Abhijeet***

    Link to the article?