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What is Water Crisis, Meaning, Definition, Impact of Water Crisis

Water is the most valuable natural resource as it is essential for human survival and life on our planet. At present, the availability of fresh water for human consumption is under stress for a variety of reasons. The crisis of water scarcity is most visible in India as well as in other developing countries. Water scarcity is the lack of fresh water resources to satisfy the demand for it. It can be observed as partial or no satisfaction of expressed demand, economic competition for water quality or quantity, excessive depletion of groundwater, disputes between users, or other such manifestations. Water scarcity affects India as well as a number of developing countries at particular times every year. Some regions of these countries have perpetual water scarcity.

Meaning of Water Scarcity

Despite the frequent use of the term ‘water scarcity’, there is no consensus on how water scarcity should be defined or how it should be measured. One of the most commonly used measures of water scarcity is the ‘Falkenmark Indicator or Water Stress Index? This indicator defines water scarcity in terms of the total amount of renewable fresh water that is available for each person each year. If the amount of renewable water in a country or region is below 1700 m per person per year, that country or region is said to be experiencing water stress. If the available water is below 1000 m per person per year, it is said to be experiencing water scarcity. If it is below 500 m’ per person per year, that country or region is said to be experiencing absolute water scarcity.

NITI Aayog Report on Extent of Crisis

According to study report by NITI Aayog, India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history. Already, more than 600 million people are facing acute water shortages. Critical groundwater resources which account for 40% of our water supply are being depleted at unsustainable rates. Further, 70% of our water is contaminated, India is among bottom most countries in water quality index which results in nearly 200,000 deaths each year.

Around 40% of the Indian population will have no access to drinking water by 2030. By 2020-21 cities including New Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad will run out of ground water which will affect 100 million people. Economically, it may cost upto 6% of our GDP by 2050. With growing population the per capita availability of water has declined to 1,508 m’ in 2014 from 1,816 m’ in 2001.

As more than half of agriculture in India is rainfed , droughts which have become more frequent are creating problem for India’s rain dependent farmers. The water crisis in India is deepening for a variety of reasons.

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Impact of Water Crisis

The impact of the deepening water crisis will be manifold. According to NITI Aayog report, water demand will be double of the present supply by 2030 and hence India could lose upto 6% of its GDP by 2050 because of water crisis. The water scarcity in India affects hundreds of millions of people across the country. Since tap water is unavailable in many cities residents have to rely on alternative water sources. A lot of people are spending money to buy drinking water.

Water scarcity also threating the lives of wild animals across India as they are forced to infiltrate villages and cities to find water. Water stress in scarcity hit areas has caused failure of agricultural crops, due to which number of farmers have committed suicide, as they were unable to pay the loan.

The water crisis creates conflicts between states over river water sharing. For instance, the Kaveri river water dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has been festering for many years. Water shortage will also reduce generation of electricity, as many of thermal power plants, which require much water for their operation, are located in areas of water scarcity.

Reasons for Water Crisis in India

In recent times, the water crisis in India has become very critical, affecting a lot of people across India. Water crisis in India is not only caused by natural disasters, but rather because of severe mismanagement of water resources, poor governance and apathy. Water problem in India has many facets.

The effects of climate change on the monsoon seasons is one of the main reason for decrease in rainfall and water shortage in India. Earlier, average monsoon rainfall spanned 45 days but now it has decreased to 22 days.

India is the world’s biggest groundwater user. According to Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), the continued exploitation of groundwater from 2007 to 2017 caused the groundwater level in India to decrease by 61%. The unmonitored and unregulated extraction of groundwater has diminished and contaminated the water resources. Groundwater meets more than half of the country’s need of water supply.

India is among the top growers of agricultural produce in the world. Thus, the consumption of water for irrigation is amongst the highest . Indian farmers give more emphasis on growing ash crops instead of food crops, which consume excessive amounts of water. Traditional techniques used for irrigation causes maximum water loss due to evaporation, drainage, percolation, water conveyance and excessive use of groundwater.

Water pollution is another problem. Sewage, effluents and wastewater from industries is drained into traditional water bodies such as river and ponds. Ganga is one of the most sacred but severely polluted river of India. Alongwith other religious wastes, the bones and ashes remaining after hindu cremation are also thrown in Ganges. According to the Central Water Commission, India requires at most 3,000 billion mof water annually and it receives around 4,000 billion m of rain. But due to inefficiency, misuse and siltation of rivers, significant amount of water is wasted.

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Construction of dams, other hydroelectric projects and water diversion for irrigation has led to systematically destroying large river ecosystems. Rapid urbanisation as well as extreme groundwater usage by soft drink companies such as coca-cola also led to the water crisis in India.

Suggestions to Mitigate the Water Crisis

Looking at the current situation of water crisis in India, there is need for a paradigm shift. Some of the solutions which could be effective in dealing with the water crisis are:

• Rain Water Harvesting

Rain water harvesting is the the innovative way of collecting rainwater in order to recharge the underground water. India receives enough rainwater annually during monsoon. So, it should be encouraged in large scale, particularly in cities where surface runoff of rainwater is very high. Moreover, traditional practices of rainwater harvesting like Jhalara, Bandhi, Bawari, Taanka, Ahar Pynes, Johads, Kuhls etc. should be promoted.

•Crop Diversification

Crop diversification is a solution to reduce water usage in agriculture. Farmers should be encouraged to grow less water intensive crops like pulses and millets.

• Micro Irrigation

Micro Irrigation such as drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation should be promoted. The technology has the advantage of being applicable to all kinds of terrains in the country. Furthermore, the techniques help farmers use water more efficiently by modifying the water supply based on moisture level of soil.

• Desalination

It is a potential advanced technique to solve the problem of water shortage, especially in coastal regions. Desalination involves treating sea water to remove its salt content, making it fit for drinking.

•Organic and Nature-based Farming Organic farming consumes less water in irrigation in improving the water-storage capacity of soil.

• Use of Wastewater

More than 50 per cent of wastewater can be reused. By developing partnership with countries which are world leaders in sewage treatment and recycling such as Israel and establishing such facilities, India can meet the rising demands of industries and agriculture.

•Aquifer Recharging

One of the main reason for deepening water crisis is reduction in traditional water recharging areas. Rapid construction is ruining traditional water bodies such as aquifers that have also acted as groundwater recharging mechanism. We need to urgently revive traditional aquifers, while implementing new ones. Aquifer recharging through community ponds and recharge needs should be promoted with the involvement of Gram Sabhas.

•Raising Social Awareness

Campaigns should be organised to raise awareness about the importance of saving water to cope with its scarcity and ensure sustainability. Some NGOs are actively involved in teaching the locals how to preserve the water resources and how to increase the water usage efficiency.

• Establishing Water Resources Projects

NGOs in India should be involved in establishing water harvesting structures in rural areas. For instance, The Jal Bhagirathi Foundation is one of the most prominent NGOs in India dealing with the issues of water scarcity in the desert terrains of Rajasthan. Some of the organisations such as ‘FORCE’ and ‘Safe Water Network’ are actively involved in dealing with the water crisis in India.

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Government Schemes and Efforts

In partnership with Central and State Governments, the country has launched various schemes/programmes across the regions for conservation and management of water resources in a transparent, equitable and sustainable manner. Prominent among them are:

• Command Area Development and Water Management (CADWM) Programme It was launched in 1974-75 and its main aim was to improve the utilisation of created irrigation potential and optimising foodgrains production. It was done to meet the increasing need of food for growing population with the improved water use efficiency.

• Watershed Development Programmes Watershed Development Projects were taken up under different programmes launched by Government of India. Some of the important projects under Watershed Development Programmes were Drought Prone Area Development Programme (DPAP); Desert Development Programme (DDP); Integrated Waterland Development Project Scheme (IWDP); National Watershed Development Programme in Rainfed Areas (NWDPRA). In case of hilly areas, Watershed Development Project for Shifting Cultivation Area (WDPSCA) was initiated as watershed development programme.

• National Water Policy It was first adoptead in 1987 which was reviewed and updated in 2002 and later in 2012. The main objective of National Water Policy is to conserve the water. the government are as follows: The government in 2019 has launched ‘Atal Bhujal Yojana’ in overexploited and water stressed areas. This scheme envisages active participation of communities in various activities such as formation of water user associations, monitoring and disseminating groundwater data, water budgeting related to sustainable groundwater management.

Some of the recent initiatives taken by government as follows :

• Under new unified Ministry of Jal Shakti, the government has launched Jal Shakti Abhiyaan (JSA) which is intensive water conservation campaign built on citizen participation to accelerate water conservation across the country.

• In short run, Jal Shakti Abhiyaan campaign will focus on integrated demand and supply side management of water at the local level, including creation of local infrastructure for source sustainability using rain water harvesting, ground water recharge and management of household wastewater for reuse.

•For the long run, the government has launched the Jal Jeevan Mission (JM) with an aim to ensured piped water supply to all rural household by 2024.

• Niti Aayog has launched Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) to bring about much required improvements in water resource management and conservation in India in a coherent and collaborative manner. This index is a public platform that provides an annual snapshot of water sector status and water management performance of different states and UTs in India.


To conclude, the rapidly urbanising and developing India needs to drought-proof its cities and rationalise its farming. Water harvesting must be a priority, alongsi mechanisms for groundwater replenishment. Coordinated action by all three tiers of government can bring long term solutions such as the inter-linking of rivers and good water management practices. Further, civil societies and NGOs can significant role in making water conservation a mass movement.

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