Daily Current Affairs – 12th May, 2016DEVENDRA VISHWAKARMA
Managing India’s Freshwater
“There will be constant competition over water, between farming families and urban dwellers, environmental conservationists and industrialists, minorities living off natural resources and entrepreneurs seeking to commodify the resources base for commercial gain”
-UNICEF report on Indian water
India’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. India’s climate is not particularly dry, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution
Ministry of water resources— With 2.5% of global landmass, India has 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. This has however come under increasing demographic stress since India is home to about 16% of world population and the distribution of freshwater is skewed spatially and temporally.
Central Water Commission— estimated that the:
- Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin with 33% of the landmass had 60% of total water flows
- The western coastline with 3% of the area had another 11%
- The left out 29% of water resources in the remaining 64% of the area in peninsular India—accustomed to varied incidences of drought and farmer suicides is a routine
- Rainfall is received over a relatively short duration during the monsoon leading to temporary flooding
- Huge amounts of surface water quickly drain into the sea and the pace of this run-off can be reduced through—inter-basin transfers, new storage reservoirs, desilting, reviving traditional water storage structures such as ponds, dissemination of groundwater recharge technologies, and water harvesting structures such as check dams, open draw wells and rooftop devices.
- The surface water resources are renewed year after year through the hydrological cycle with the Indo-Gangetic plain being one of the biggest groundwater reservoirs in the world as it is a natural freshwater sink
Decline in freshwater resources—
Biggest culprit: Agriculture accounting for 80% of all freshwater usage
- Flood irrigation, prevalent in more than 95% of the irrigated area, damages both ecology and farm economics.
- Farmers at the tail end of major command systems receive delayed and deficient supplies, while those upstream uses the grossly under-priced water wastefully
- Eg: The development and distribution of cheap electricity and electric pumps have triggered rapid pumping of groundwater and subsequent depletion of aquifers.
Solution: A time-bound plan to bring the entire cropped area under controlled irrigation (sprinklers, underground pipes and other water conservation devices) should be undertaken.
Unsustainable withdrawal of freshwater:
- Occurs mostly when water trapped in underground rock formations below the phreatic water table in deep aquifers over centuries, millennia or even millions of years, is extracted at levels exceeding the natural rate of recharge—with the help of recently developed technology to tap deep aquifers (completely empties them within a relatively short period of time)
- Leads to: Excessive withdrawal has also led to increasing concentration of toxic elements such as fluoride, arsenic and salinity in several areas
- Urban areas:
- Due to poor piped drinking water supply—Because the rivers are too polluted to drink and the government is unable to consistently deliver freshwater to the cities, many urban dwellers are turning to groundwater, which is greatly contributing to the depletion of underground aquifers
- Amenities of typical urban life, such as flush toilets and washing machines
- Water is both an important input for many different manufacturing and industrial sectors and used as a coolant for machines, such as textile machines.
- Cheap water that can be rapidly pumped from underground aquifers has been a major factor in the success of India’s economic growth
- Industrial waste is largely responsible for the high levels of pollutants found in India’s rivers and groundwater— corporations end up polluting the very water they later need as an input
- Rural areas: Regions away from river systems, or disadvantaged by the scarce availability of surface water bodies, are constrained to fall back on groundwater for agricultural expansion, as in large parts of western, central and peninsular India. These are mostly areas of dry land cultivation, where agricultural productivity has expanded in recent times through massive, unsustainable exploitation of deep aquifers.
The rowdy machines: The drilling rig and electric pump revolution has permanently depleted groundwater reserves in several areas