Water is vital for life on Earth and yet the value of this finite resource is perhaps the least considered. It is easier to visualize the trauma of one gasping for breath, for obvious reasons, but not the slow agony of those without adequate water. Our citizens remain oblivious to the significance of a ‘water value’ even though India ranks among the most water scarce countries. Worse still, a majority are unaware of conservation protocols in the face of an impending crisis of water in areas of current abundance.
The theme for the World Water Day 2021 is ‘Valuing Water’. The UN has elaborated that water means different things to different people. In households, schools and workplaces, water can mean health, hygiene, dignity and productivity. In cultural, religious and spiritual places, water can mean a connection with creation, community and oneself. In natural spaces, water can mean peace, harmony and preservation. And yet, water is under extreme threat from a growing population, increasing demands of agriculture and industry, and the worsening impacts of climate change.
This theme holds special relevance to India, with current and projected scarcity and prevalence of general apathy towards sustainable use of available water resources in the country. Nearly three years back, the National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog report on the Composite Water Management Index revealed the extent of the water crisis in India, with 600 million people in the grip of high to extreme water stress. The report projected that by 2030, the country’s water demand will be twice the available supply, implying severe scarcity for hundreds of millions of people.
India is placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index and up to 70% of water supply in India is likely to be contaminated, with around two lakh deaths every year attributed to inadequate safe water access. Critical groundwater resources, which account for 40% of our water supply, are being depleted at unsustainable rates. Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for farmers, as 53% of agriculture in India is dependent on rainfall.
The Himalayan Watersheds, comprising the valleys of the Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra and the Mekong are home to over 40% of the human population. Studies predict dire impacts of warming on ‘Asia’s Water Towers’, with one data-based index of ‘hydro-political’ issues in areas with a history of ‘transboundary water resources’, including the Ganges-Brahmaputra basin among the five global hotspots that are likely to see ‘water wars’.
The first Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) Assessment Report projected the loss of over a third of extant glaciers even if global warming is contained at 1.5 Celsius above the pre-industrial levels by 2100. However, average temperatures in the HKH region have already increased by 1.3 degrees Celsius and scientists believe that 40% of the glaciers in…
Read more:: Valuing water in the age of climate change