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Why India is water stressed despite good rainfall?

by Dr Prem Community Writer
Why India is water stressed despite good rainfall

India has experienced water scarcity for many years even though there is good rainfall. There are floods in many parts of the country, yet there is no water for its citizens. The cities and villages do not have potable water and they have to deal with the havoc that floods bring. Going back 150 years, when the government did not supply water, there does not seem to have been problems in water supply, unless there was less rain that year. Let’s analyze the reasons why India is water stressed in spite of having decent rainfall.

Reasons why India is water stressed

1. Weak Monsoons

Weak-MonsoonsThe deficiency of monsoon rainfall for consecutive years has resulted in the serious water shortage in many states. The 14-16% rain deficit has caused the severe problems in water supply. 75% of India’s annual rainfall is derived from the monsoon which is from the period of June through September. The rain is spread across the whole country by the middle of July, after its arrival over Kerala in June beginning. Almost 60% of the farmlands of India are fed by the monsoon rains, and close to half of the workforce works in the agricultural sector.

2. Cultivation of water intensive crops

water intensive cropsDue to the cultivation of water intensive crops such as wheat, rice as well as sugarcane has increased the scarcity of water. The demand for the export of these crops has led to farmers shifting from less water intensive crops to crops such as rice, even in areas which do not receive adequate rainfall required to water these crops.

India is running out of water,as over 70% of the water which is delivered through the irrigation infrastructure goes to water the sugarcane and paddy fields. States such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, which grow sugarcane, has been hard hit by the water shortage, as the water is diverted to the sugarcane fields. Producing just one kg of sugar require 5,000 liters water, according to WWF for Nature. Thus, in these areas, farmers should start adapting themselves to climate change. Producing less water hungry crops such as barley could help to avert or control the water shortage.

3. Deforestation

DeforestationTrees have been felled inordinately to support many human endeavors which has affected the entire South Asian monsoon pattern, causing about 18% in the precipitation over the whole of India. This was revealed through a study which was published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences last year.

4. Lack of rainwater harvesting

Lack of rainwater harvestingRainwater harvesting has become a rarity and all the water which could be saved during the rainy season dries up or simply flows into the oceans. There has to be policies to store rainwater in ponds, lakes and tanks and also to steer it towards the aquifers. The government has to begin a focused strategy of rainwater harvesting in order to get over the water scarcity.

Many Indian states have been asked to adopt rooftop water-harvesting system in government offices and other institutions. Though financial aid has also been provided, only 18 from the 29 states have adopted the guidelines of the government. There doesn’t seem to be any control of the government or supervision to see if these projects have been carried out. So,India is running out of water due to the inefficient and inadequate water harvesting schemes in both rural and urban areas.

5. Government water supply schemes are mis-managed

Government water supply schemes are mis-managedThere have been shifts in water management world over and India is the no exception. The first reason is that 150 years back, there were no government provided water supply. People did not depend on the government, which made systems of drawing water from the aquifers and put a lot of stress on the fresh groundwater. Dams were constructed across rivers to provide water to the people.

Dependence on the government meant that the water supply cost went up. The poor recovery of costs drove the financial viability of water schemes insufficient and the government could not keep up with maintenance and repairs. Leaking water supply pipes has led to millions of liters of potable water being lost every day. This water could have been used for the benefit of people in cities and villages. So, in spite of there being enough rainfall, there is a water crisis in India.

Poor management of water supply has also led tothe crisis.There is a lack of awareness among people about not using water carefully which created a problem in the sustainability of water resources. This led to problems in the government drinking water-supply systems/schemes.

According to the statistics presented in Lok Sabha in the year 2016, every year for the past 7 years, 0.14 million areas slipped out from the government rural potable water schemes. The government did pump in crores of money, due to various problems including the mismanagement in part of government, 58% of the 1.7 million areas/habitations slipped to the ‘not covered’ category. That is why, during the drought, the government had to supply water with tankers.

6. Groundwater is running out

floodDue to the increasing population in cities as well as in rural areas, the groundwater (which is hardly ever replenished by rainwater) is running out. In Kerala, Chennai and Bangalore which recently were inundated by floods, the rainwater was not stored and the cities suffered from potable water crisis.

Chennai residents suffered from three of the four reservoirs run completely dry. The groundwater which provides the buffer between the monsoons is getting severely depleted and face the danger of being completely becoming dry.

7. Unpredictable monsoon

groundwater-tableThe fate of the 1.3 billion citizens of India is dependent on an increasingly unpredictable monsoon. Late monsoons with sometimes less than 30% less rainfall has created havoc. Cities such as Chennai and Bangalore has some dire times ahead, if water supply is not managed well. Some Bangalore residents have dug borewells to access groundwater, and the situation is critical now, as the unregulated and unmonitored extraction has caused the groundwater table to go down to 1,000 ft.

Bangalore is 3,000 feet above the sea level. Bangalore derives its water from the Cauvery, drawing 1450 million liters every day, and slated to go even higher. But still the water is yet to reach everyone, as there is a problem in the distribution infrastructure.

Besides, as groundwater level is below the river water level, the river has started to feed the ground aquifers. The Cauvery is therefore being stressed upon by the huge municipality pipelines as well as the bore wells.

8. Rainwater harvesting use has declined

surplus water is used for the irrigationSimple technologies which were used by rural people earlier to harvest rainwater has gone out of practice. Traditionally, farmers and others living in rural areas were able to harvest the rainwater, even in desert areas such as Barmer in Rajasthan. The area would receive only 100 mm water per year which is equal to 1 million liters (MI) water, which was enough for the cooking as well as drinking needs of about 182 people for one year at 15 liters per person per day.

Even if all the water was not captured, the rudimentary technology could capture 0.4MI per year. This was the way how people in the Thar desert were able to survive, making it the most populated desert in the whole world.

According to calculations, it would only require a 21×21 m plot for the capture of 1 million liter of rainwater. If rainwater harvesting is carried out in all parts of water then there could be a way out of the water crisis in India.

People in places like Arunachal have used rainwater harvesting for their cooking and drinking needs and the surplus is used for the irrigation.

Solution of water crisis in India

rainwater-harvesting-techniqueAccording to calculations by experts, the amount of land required for rainwater harvesting is 0.10 ha in areas like Arunachal Pradesh where there is high rainfall, and villages are small. Land requirement in areas like Delhi and around where the villages are big and the rainfall is quite low, is 8.46 ha.

It is not an impossible task to assign land in every village for rainwater harvesting, which could catch the run-off from the forest areas, highest mountains as well as uninhabited terrains. This gives a rainfall harvest of about 2.44 billion liters to the whole of India.

These calculations therefore show that rainwater harvesting has enormous potential and could be a viable solution to India’s water crisis.

People should be encouraged to follow the traditional water harvesting methods, such as collecting the water flowing from rooftops in the tanks in courtyards. In Rajasthan, they were called ‘kundis’ which were artificial wells in community lands.

In Tamil Nadu, water was stored in Eris, ahars in Bihar, Johads in Rajasthan, zings in Ladakh and others.

So, even though sue to climate change and other reasons, there is drought in many parts of the country, it is still possible to drought proof India. Both drinking water as well as water for irrigation can be used for growing crops which need less water.

The government and private individuals should focus on the years which have normal rainfall, and store the water in tanks and also use it to recharge the depleting groundwater.