With a growing population and rising needs of a fast developing nation without commensurate recharge, water resources are shrinking in the country. A study by the Asian Development Bank showed that in 20 cities the average duration of supply was only 4.3 hours per day. No city had continuous supply. The longest duration of supply was 12 hours per day in Chandigarh, and the lowest was 0.3 hours per day in Rajkot. More than 100 crore population casts acute pressure on the resources.
Fast economic growth is further causing erosion of resources. Rapid growth in demand for water due to population growth, urbanization and changing lifestyle poses serious challenges to water scarcity. Unsustainable economic growth is fast depleting the resources and is further aggravating the crisis. Low public consciousness about the overall scarcity and economic value of water also results in its wastage and inefficient use. This results in excessive exploitation of groundwater, which, though part of hydrological cycle and a community resource, is perceived as an individual property and is exploited inequitably and without any consideration to its sustainability leading to its over-exploitation in several areas. Adding to this, inequitable distribution and lack of a unified perspective in planning, management and use of water resources are aggravating the situation.
Therefore, strategy to ensure water security must be a holistic one, incorporating not just economic use but also incorporating conservation, maintenance and the optimum utilization of the resources.
As per present estimate, India receives on average annual precipitation of about 4000 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM), which is its basic water resource. Out of this, after considering the natural evaporation- transpiration, only about 1869 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM) is average annual natural flow through rivers and aquifers. Of this, only about 1123 BCM is utilizable through the present strategies, if large inter-basin transfers are not considered.
Therefore, water availability for utilization needs to be enhanced to meet the increasing demands of water. Direct use of rainfall and avoidance of inadvertent evapo-transpiration are the new additional strategies for augmenting utilizable water resources. Rainwater harvesting is part of such techniques. Rain water harvesting should be made compulsory in all the upcoming buildings in the urban areas as seepage in urban areas is much lower compared to rural areas. Due to low seepage, there is fast depletion of ground water resources in our cities without commensurate recharge.
In rural areas, watershed development activities need to be taken in a comprehensive manner to increase soil moisture, reduce sediment yield and increase overall land and water productivity. To the extent possible, existing programs like MGNREGA may be used by farmers to harvest rain water using farm ponds and other soil and water conservation measures Moreover, There is a need to map the aquifers to know the quantum and quality of ground water resources (replenishable as well as non-replenishable) in the country. This should be periodically updated too.
In areas, where ground water suffers over-exploitation, improved technologies of water use like incentivizing efficient water use and encouraging community based management of aquifers etc can be implemented. Many policy makers suggest transferring management of water resources to private sector so as to introduce efficiency and optimum utilization Further, market based water pricing is also suggested by many. However, since water is a community good, its transfer to private sector may not be appropriate but Public Private Partnership (PPP) in its management cannot be ruled out. Further, charging market based price for water utilization may make left a big chunk of population without potable water. Hence a cross subsidization in pricing can be considered.
For a decent and healthy living, not just enough water is required but safe water is required. Most water sources are contaminated by sewage and agricultural runoff. Although access to drinking water has improved, the World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water.
Therefore, in order to augment the supply of safe drinking water supply in rural areas all over the country, Government of India launched a scheme called :Swajaldhara” in 2002. Many NGOs are also involved in the implementation of scheme. It is community based scheme in which their participation is ensured.
Water is essential for human civilisation, living organisms, and natural habitat and for their sustainable living, sustainable use of safe water is need of hour. It needs to be ensured that industrial effluents, local cess pools, residues of fertilizers and chemicals, etc., do not reach the ground water cleaning of underground water is practically impossible.