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Water crisis imminent in India’s cities, report states

Two Indian women collect water for use in clay pots. Image credit: Ð Ñ–ÐºÑ‚Ð¾Ñ€Ñ Ð†Ð²Ð°Ð½ÐµÑ†ÑŒ / 123rf
Image credit: Ð Ñ–ÐºÑ‚Ð¾Ñ€Ñ Ð†Ð²Ð°Ð½ÐµÑ†ÑŒ / 123rf

Multiple Indian cities face a water crisis based on a report identifying “water risk” in the world’s cities.

Of the 100 cities the report flags, almost one-third are in India. The Water Risk Filter – a digital tool developed by the World Wide Fund for Nature and Deutsche Investitions- und Entwicklungsgesellschaft (DEG) – identifies a number of concerns surrounding water availability and water scarcity. Such issues have loomed large in India for some time.

The report by the Water Risk Filter outlines that, by 2050, thirty of India’s cities will face water scarcity. These include the national capital of Delhi; the Rajasthan state capital Jaipur; West Bengal state capital Kolkata; Karnataka state capital Bengaluru; and Andhra Pradesh’s Visakhapatnam, Madhya Pradesh’s Indore, Mumbai’s Pune, and Punjab’s Amritsar.

WWF India’s programme director Sejal Worah emphasised that “the future of India’s environment lies in its cities. As India rapidly urbanises, cities will be at the forefront both for India’s growth and for sustainability. For cities to break away from the current vicious loop of flooding and water scarcity, nature-based solutions like restoration of urban watersheds and wetlands could offer solutions. This is our chance to re-evolve and re-imagine what the future of the cities could be.”

As summarised by Livemint

“The study said multi-stakeholder engagements and ownership involving local communities will be key to creating and conserving sustainable water infrastructure and rejuvenating urban freshwater systems. It added that urban planning and wetland conservation needs to be integrated to ensure zero loss of freshwater systems in urban areas. The survey added that while improving urban water infrastructure and cutting water consumption will help reduce water risks, nature-based solutions including restoring degraded watersheds, reconnecting rivers to their floodplains, and restoring or creating urban wetlands are critical.”

The prospect of a water crisis in India has long been warned of. World Water Day this year, Health Issues India reported, came with a warning of water availability being on the decline. At that time, we noted “India is home to around eighteen percent of the global population — with numbers set to increase in the coming years. Despite such a vast population, India only has access to around four percent of global freshwater resources. 

“Meanwhile, India’s per capita water availability is on the decline, presenting the very real possibility of a water crisis in the near future…water demand is projected to surpass the supply in the near future. Groundwater reserves are on the decline, resulting in common usage of polluted water supplies, especially by India’s most economically deprived. Water distribution in India is heavily imbalanced upon economic lines, with the poorest having no choice but to consume often pathogen-riddled water simply to stave off the potential of dangerous levels of dehydration. Due to inadequate and unsafe water supply and unimproved sanitation, about 200,000 people, mostly children, die in India every year.”

The report by the Water Risk Filter underscores such concerns, even as they are far from new worries. UNESCO projected in 2018 that severe water shortages by 2050 are on the cards for India.

This is not to say, however, that efforts are not being undertaken in India to address such fears. As we noted on World Water Day this year, “as of now, out of 178.7 million of rural households, only 18.3 percent have tap connection of water. The Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM), launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in December, has set out the aim that this figure will be increased to 100 percent by 2024.”

Admittedly, we acknowledged, “the task appears gargantuan. The engineering technicalities of providing safe water to India’s most remote villages is daunting in and of itself, as piping will need to be installed across vast regions.” And this is key. An inadequate supply of water carries multiple ramifications for public health. This ranges from poor sanitation portending the wider spread of infectious diseases borne by water to the pronounced health effects of dehydration. 

As our World Water Day piece this year concluded, “World Water Day reminds us that water, while taken for granted by many, is perhaps our most vital resource. Without it, we simply cannot survive. As such, ensuring that access to safe water is made a priority for all should be among the world’s highest health priorities.” The report by the WWF only emphasises this. 

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