By Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena in Bhubaneswar, August 28, 2019: Water is one of the essential resources required for all living beings on this planet. The need of water for human beings is increasing with increase in their numbers and development of various socio economic activities. The amount of fresh water available for human consumption is only less than 1% of the total available water on the earth.

Again out of this, because of various anthropogenic activities particularly due to urbanization and industrialization, a large portion of water available to the human society is getting polluted. At present, nearly 70% of water is being used in agriculture, 23% in industry and only 7% for drinking and other domestic purposes. Some of the activities responsible for fresh water scarcity are summarized below:

1. Rapid pollution of freshwater resources:

Rapid development of industries and urbanization has been responsible for polluting a large proportion of available fresh water due to the release of toxic solids and liquid effluents to the water bodies without any treatment and thus making most of the available water unsuitable for drinking and sometimes even for agricultural purpose. For example, Lake Tie the 3rd largest fresh water bodies in China, has been completely polluted by industrial and agricultural wastes and has resulted in debarring over 2.3 million residence to meet their water requirements and forcing them to look for alternate water supply. In India, similar instances are plenty as most of the urban sewage and industrial waste water are let out to the rivers and other water bodies.

2. Disappearance of Wetlands:

Nearly half of the wetlands on this planet have disappeared during the last century due to establishment of industrial infrastructures, roads, development of urban settlements etc. and resulted in rapid depletion of surface as well as ground water resources. At present, even some rivers no longer reach the sea and nearly 20% of the estimated 10,000 fresh water fish species are now endangered or are being extinct because of above activities the situation regarding rapid disappearance of wetlands in India is still worse.

3. Climate change and irregularity of rainfall:

Global warming, which is caused due to burning of fossil fuels, deforestation etc., is bringing climate change. According to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the fresh water availability for all human beings is highly alarming. If the global average temperature increases by 30C, another hundred million people will be under water stressed region. The IPCC report also predicts that, by the year 2020, between 75 – 200 million people are likely to be exposed to increased water stress. For example, it is apprehended that, the yield from rain fed agriculture may be reduced by 50% in Africa. The climate change is expected to bring appreciable changes in precipitation pattern and the disappearance of glaciers can significantly affect availability of fresh water for human consumption.

4. Extravagance in use of water:

In agricultural sector alone which consumes nearly 2/3rd of the water used by human society, the water actually used is much more than what is required. The main reason is the colossal loss of water due to transportation, leakage, accumulation of excess water in some farmlands and evaporation. Further, the present irrigation system actually consumes only 37 – 50% of water used and the rest of the water is evaporated. Again in industrial sector, the water used instead of being recycled after proper treatment, is let out to the nearby water bodies. Further, a good amount of fresh water is used for purposes like dedusting of roads and washing the vehicles and equipments. In domestic sector particularly in the urban areas, a huge quantity of water is used for less important purposes like flushing the toilets, watering the plants in the garden, washing vehicles and de-dusting the roads etc.

Some of the important factors responsible for mismanagement of fresh water resources are:

 Inefficient Water Supply and Use,
 Land Degradation and Desertification,
 Hydrological Alterations,
 Environmental Degradation,
 Lack of Economic Irrigation Facilities,
 Unscientific Water transport facilities,
 Lack of domestic water economy,
 Lack of sincerity in rain water harvesting and
 Direct discharge of sewage water and industrial effluents to water bodies.
 Neglecting the maintenance of wetlands and their elimination.

It may be mentioned here that, we ‘eat’ much more water than we drink. For example, in a rich country like USA, a person ‘eat’ about 3000 liters of water indirectly through various food items and drink only 2 to 5 liters per day. This is because most of the food grains, vegetables, fish, meat etc require a lot of water to be produced. For example, 800 to 4000 liters of water to grow a kg of wheat, 2000 to 16000 liters of water to produce a kg of beef and 2000 to 8700 liters of water to grow a kg of cotton are required.

It is reported that, global food demand may increase by 70 to 90% of the present figure by the year 2040 without any increase in water productivity under the present situation. Therefore, the water for food requirements without any change in diet, from rain fed and irrigated lands, have to be doubled. Further, besides agricultural sector, the demand of water in industrial and domestic sectors is likely to grow appreciably during the years to come. Many parts of the world, including India, have started facing water scarcity and this situation is going to be worse during the next decades unless some remedial measures to improve the water resource are taken. At present, more than 1.2 billion people (nearly 20% of the world population) are living in water stress region.

The United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that, by the year 2025, the number of people in water stressed region will be around 3 billion. A recent report co-sponsored by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the RAMSAR Convention has warned the human society that, it would be very difficult to meet the global demand for food over the next few decades unless necessary reforms in management of water and agriculture sectors are undertaken.

In October 2007, the Environment Protection Agency of USA predicated that, the city of Atlanta’s main source of water, the lake Lanier would dry up within 3 – 4 months of the year unless drastic reallocation of water took place. In the same year in India, over 1000 people died during the summer because of the want of water. In recent years, many more such dangerous incidents are being reported in different parts of the world.

Planning of Water Projects in India

India is in the water stress region of the world. The country has more than 17% of world’s population, but has only 4% of world’s renewable water resources with 2.6% of world’s land area. In addition to uneven distributions of rainfall over time and space in the country, there are challenges of frequent floods and droughts. Further, with rapid increase in population, urbanization and industrialization, the demand of fresh water in various sectors is growing very fast. Low public consciousness about the overall scarcity and economic value of water, results in its considerable wastes and inefficient use. In addition to this, due to faulty planning, management, distribution and transport system, this valuable natural resource is not effectively utilized in promoting agricultural and industrial developments and meeting its growing needs in domestic sector.

The present precarious situation and mismanagement of water resource in India have resulted in several important concerns for the nation. Some of these are as follows

i) Large parts of India have already become water stressed,
ii) There is a wide temporal and spatial variation in availability of water,
iii) Acute problem for providing drinking water throughout the year for all the citizens,
iv) Over exploitation of ground water with no control and recharging,
v) Presence of interstate and inter regional disputes in sharing of river water,
vi) No systematic plan and practices for rain water harvesting,
vii) Growing pollution of water bodies by point and non point sources,
viii) Bad maintenance of existing water resource infrastructures,
ix) Absence of inter disciplinary approach of water related problems,
x) Faulty planning regarding water resource management,
xi) Unsatisfactory public and private involvement in water resource management,
xii) Lack of adequate trained personnel for applying modern technology in the areas of water resource conservation and development,
xiii) Low public consciousness about overall scarcity and economic value of water and
xiv) Faulty rules and regulations regarding water resource development and management.

In view of this gloomy situation with respect to fresh water availability, it is essential to manage the water resource properly in an integrated manner to meet our growing needs.

(Dr Jena is former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India)

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