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Introduction To The Problem

Water scarcity refers to lack of access to safe drinking water. It arises when there is insufficient supply to support both human and ecosystem water needs. While for a lot of us this may be an abstract concept, it is a hard reality for millions around the world.

At present, around 1.1 billion people lack access to water and around 2.7 billion face a scarcity of water for at least one month of the year. Rivers, lakes and other water bodies around the world are said to be drying up and more than half the world’s wetlands are said to have disappeared.

Water is an essential resources for our survival, and a threat to its availability implies a direct threat to human survival. In areas where it’s a scanty resource, especially in the dry arid regions like deserts, a large part of active hours are spent in sourcing water across large distances, thus reducing their productive capacity. And the various villages and towns located around the Thar Desert in Rajasthan are an example of this, where plenty of time is lost gathering water, which in turn considerably limits their potential to contribute towards earning their livelihood.

Factors Driving Water Scarcity

As a growing population puts increasing demands on earth’s resources, cost and effort to build or even maintain access to water is increasing as well. Climate change has been another critical factor driving water scarcity. Rising temperatures are said to be creating new weather and atmospheric patterns that are altering water supply availability.

Some other major causes of water scarcity are identified to be natural calamities, overuse and wastage of water, global rise in freshwater demand, overuse of aquifers and its consequent slow recharge.

Is a Water Crisis Looming Ahead?

It can be ascertained that a looming water crisis stares at us in years to come, the estimated magnitude of this crisis is still debated. Certain projections estimate that annual global water requirements will exceed current sustainable water supplies by 40%. The UN estimates that by 2025, around 30 nations would be water scarce.

In India, water demand is estimated to reach 1.5 trillion cubic meters in 2030, while currently India’s water supply is around 740 billion cubic meters.                       

What Can We Do To Avoid This Crisis?

Some ways in which we can prevent a water crisis from escalating further include:

Preventing overuse: Being mindful of water use and only utilizing the required amount can go a long way in preventing water levels from depleting at faster rates than can be restored.

Raising Awareness: Building awareness on the issue and discouraging people from misusing the resource is essential to prevent the problem from getting worse in future.

Recycling Water: Recycling water is a sustainable solution to the problem of water scarcity. Rainwater harvesting is one example of how water can be recycled and preserved.

Advancing Technology: Leveraging technology for water conservation could be potentially life-saving for many. Devising new and innovative methods to conserve water is the only way forward given that the resource is limited.

One of the key reasons for water scarcity in some regions is unequal distribution of water across regions and excessive use of water in other areas. Thus managing demand to ensure equitable access would be necessary to resolve the crisis.

Experts Speak

To get a deeper understanding of this issue, we spoke with Dr. Fawzia Tarannum, who is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Water Studies at TERI School of Advanced Studies. She throws light on the issue of water scarcity, how bad is it going to get in coming years, and what can be done to contain the problem. Read on to know what she has to say about the current crisis:

While we do understand that water scarcity is a problem, in recent years the focus has been shifting away from it. We would like to know where are we right now with respect to this issue and how bad is it likely to get in coming years?

Water shortage is certainly a critical challenge in India and many regions in the country are water stressed. Per capita water consumption in India is 135L per capita per day. We have a population of 1.35 billion whereas annual per capita water availability is less 1700 cubic metres. The NITI Aayog Report highlights that around 40% of the population will have no access to water by 2030. The situation is quite precarious for both rural and urban areas.

What are some other implications of this?

Water scarcity also has other manifestations such as drudgery of women (they have to travel long distances to collect water), education (girls have to drop out due to unavailability of water), economic cycles (45% of jobs are said to be linked with water availability), and global hunger.”

If the situation is so grim and its only going to get worse in coming years, then what is our action plan? What are some things you would suggest that can help contain the problem?

A robust plan must consider the following measures:

Good Economic Incentives: While we are pricing commodities like energy, there is no pricing for groundwater. Water cannot be priced in a similar way but there must be some form of incentives to encourage water conservation.

Stronger By-Laws & Effective Policies: We do have by-laws in place but implementation is weak. Enforcement of laws is very important. While interventions are necessary, policy support is also important. Also, women must be made part of any decision-making process related to water and must be equal partners.

Promote Water Recycling: We need to aggressively promote rainwater harvesting and augment blue-green infrastructure.  In Singapore, for example, 30-35% of water consumption is through wastewater. So we must look at recycling and reusing wastewater extensively. We must also leverage on IOT and AI to have a strong impact. For e.g., use of digital tools in agriculture could be highly beneficial.

Measure Water Footprint: Organizations could consider measuring the water footprint of products and labeling products accordingly. This could help in raising awareness and make people more conscious of their consumption.

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