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Are We Heading Towards Water Rationing?

Water covers nearly 71% of the total surface of our planet, making it valuable and indispensable in every respect for the survival of life. More than half of our bodies, too, are composed of water. Our cells subsist in this aqueous medium, proving sustainability is not possible without it. Even the birth of life, as we know it, took place in oceans. These facts point towards the necessity of water on this blue planet.

Considered a non-exhaustible resource, people often take their responsibilities towards this entity for granted, basking in their ignorance of its exhaustibility. But fresh water is only present in a small percentage on Earth, a mere 3%, of which 2% is locked up in the cryosphere and the rest 1% is to be utilized for agriculture, animal and plant usage and carrying out basic necessities of human civilization. From amongst such a low percentage of available water, which includes both ground and surface water, a large number of anthropogenic activities are to be supported. Therefore, unavailability of water increases as population and everyday consumption increases. This escalation in the exploitation of water resource results in its scarcity.

A recent example from the global scenario is of Cape Town, South Africa. Restricted to a 50-liter use of water per resident per day, Cape Town is facing the worst drought in centuries due to lack of rainfall for the past three years. Climate change and global warming have affected the overall cycle of precipitation all over the world, with areas such as South Africa suffering an acute shortage of rainfall for the past few years. Increase in population and daily use of water in the country has shifted the balance and made the city of Cape Town prone to drought and associated ailments. Many other countries too are approaching the same fate as Cape Town.

Water, its Importance, and Consumption

As already discussed, water is crucial for life on earth. Including animals and plants, which need water for carrying out basic survival activities; humans are dependent on water as much. Commercial areas, transportation services, industries, residencies, all utilize water for cleaning, drinking, washing and carrying out essentialities mandatory for a proper livelihood. A parallel can be drawn between the importance of water for aquatic life and for humans, as water is as significant for us as it is for them. We would literally feel like ‘fish out of water’for even a day without it.

Talking about water footprints all over the globe, it is imperative to point out statistics of different countries based on per capita water use. The utilization of water can be categorized into water footprints of production and consumption. The relation between these two is necessary to realize the total water usage of a country, its dependence on external water resources and the link between food security, economic development, and international trade relations.

In the USA, average water footprint per year per capita is 2842 cubic meters, which is enough to fill an Olympic swimming pool, i.e. an average of 7786 liters of water per person per day. In China, per person per day use is 2934 liters.  However, in India, the water availability per capita is 1720.29 cubic meter per year. Differences in the external and internal water footprints of consumption are also large e.g. About 95% of the water footprint of consumption in the Netherlands lies somewhere else in the world through imported goods, whereas in India and Paraguay only 3%  of the national water footprint of consumption is external. On top of all this, freshwater withdrawals have tripled over the last 50 years with demands increasing by 64 billion cubic meters a year. Almost 80% of the diseases in the developing countries are associated with water, causing nearly 3 million premature deaths. 

Water Use in the Indian Peninsula

India is a developing nation, increasing its stance towards being a superpower but at the same time facing an acute resistance. This resistance is due to the growing population of our country not being able to prosper at an appropriate rate compulsory for being the top contender in terms of world power. Shortage of food, poverty, corruption and other menaces are afflicting our country and the most devastating of all is a scarcity of freshwater. Although a tropical country, India is facing a critical dearth of proper water resource utilization. The amount of rainfall is not equally distributed all over the country with north and north-eastern states receiving the highest and western ones the lowest rainfall on an average. This leads to mismanagement of water resources by the government and inability of the stakeholders to pursue interests of the population.

Water stress India
Ref: WRI

On a national scale, the worst hit cities as cited by Times of India (2013) are Jamshedpur, with a 70% gap between demand and supply, Kanpur, Asansol, Dhanbad, Meerut, Faridabad, Vishakhapatnam, Madurai, and Hyderabad. It has been revealed that in Greater Mumbai and Delhi, which have the highest water demand of all cities, the gap between demand and supply is comparatively less, 17% and 24% respectively. However, the ground situation might be actually worse (TOI).

India has been as consistent in water use as the other countries of the world. The major areas of interest in this scenario are domestic usages e.g. drinking and sanitation, commercial uses e.g. hotels, offices, hospitals, small and medium enterprises, colleges, sports arenas, industrial uses e.g. paper, textile, dyes, chemical, hydroelectrical, automobile etc. Irrigation takes up 80% of the total water usage in India, with 60% of it extracted from groundwater reservoirs. Also, nearly 30% of urban and 70% of the rural water supply comes from aquifers. Consumption on a larger scale has increased due to rapid population growth and industrialization, making India one of the worst-hit countries to be, with respect to water scarcity, in the next 35 years. According to UN projections, our country’s population is bound to increase by 50% of the total population by 2050. The number of water-starved people would thus, increase from 320 million at present to 840 million in the future.

Demand, Supply, and Deficiency of Water in Selected Cities of India in Million Liters per Day (MLD)

Demand, Supply and Deficiency of Water in Selected Cities of India


The data above covers major metropolitan cities, showcasing how a huge gap between demand and supply creates a deficiency in water resource distribution. As per the above records, the most water-deficient metro state is Chennai, followed by Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore, Delhi, and Hyderabad. Apart from this, the other severely affected regions are Central Punjab, with the water table decrease at an average of 75 cm per year during 2002-06. Gurgaon, which receives water mostly through tankers for daily use, Solapur, which was selected to be a smart city but lost interest of many IT companies due to water shortage, and Nagpur, where as much as 30% of water was lost during transportation from the bulk  source to the distributed network before canals were developed.

The data provided above is on the basis of surveys carried out amongst people from all classes of the society. In Chennai, for instance, lower classes have to beg for water from middle class families. For Mumbai, even if rainwater harvesting techniques are applied, yet only 20% of water would becollected. In Aurangabad, 6 crore liter of water is consumed daily by the beer companies. In Delhi, the current percentage of water loss is 45-50%, even though proper pipelines, 11,350 km long, and 105 underground reservoirs are utilized by the Delhi Jal Board to supply water to NCT and Delhi region. These stats point to the mismanagement of water resources on our part which to our disadvantage has been carried out for a long time now. The data collected is from the late 1990s.

Water Conservation and Role of the People

It is now, more than ever, our duty and obligation to conserve water at all costs. With the world heading towards a water crisis, we as citizens of each nation should uphold the task of water conservation. In India, many traditional techniques have been evolved to conserve water. Examples are, Johads in Rajasthan, concept provided by Rajendra Singh of Tarun Bharat Sangh, Kuhls, Nadi, Bamboo Drip Irrigation, Zings for collecting water from melting glaciers, Kund, Talab, and Jhalara etc. as conventional methods. As far as contemporary approaches to water conservation are concerned, Sustainable Development Goals have been developed. These are a unique set of do’s and don’ts that require mass participation and implementation. One of the basic progressive practices is Watershed Management.

Watershed management is defined as the process of carrying out the course of action which involves manipulation of natural, agricultural and human resources of a watershed to provide resources that are desired by and are suitable to the watershed community. Watershed management structures include Broad-bed and Furrows, Contour Bund, Bench Terracing, Micro-catchments for sloping lands, Check Dams and Percolation Ponds.

Though it may take time and effort, but the best way to begin is at your own place. We all are a part of our watersheds and must enhance their capability to circulate water to all parts of the country and finally to the global water community. Reducing wastage and increasing efficiency of machines to use less water is also a fundamental step towards preserving water reserves. At the end, what truly makes a difference is our own capability and effort to protect this valuable resource from going scarce.

Author’s Bio:

Adeela Hameed: Miss Adeela’s hometown is Srinagar, Kashmir and she is currently pursuing Masters in Environmental Science from Amity University Noida.

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