By P.K.Balachandran/Ceylon Today
The international media’s attention is now on the severe water shortage in Chennai, India’s fifth largest city of over five million people. The rains played truant, the city’s water sources dried up, and groundwater was exhausted. Everyone including Tamil Nadu government ministers are looking up to the skies for relief. But there is none in sight.
However, this situation is not peculiar to Chennai. Drought is an all-India affliction. Twenty one Indian cities, including Bengaluru, New Delhi and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people, said the central government organization Niti Aayog in June 2018.
It is predicted that by 2050, the per capita availability of water at the national level will drop by 40 to 50% due to rapid population growth and commercial use.
According to IndiaSpend, 42% of India’s land area is facing drought this year, with 6% being “exceptionally dry”, four times the spatial extent of the drought in 2018.
Drought is widespread in the countryside. 600 million Indians or half the Indian population of 1.2 billion, face high to extreme water stress. In India, as a whole, about 75% of households do not have drinking water in their houses. By 2030, 40% of the population will have no access to drinking water.
Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, parts of North-East India, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Telangana are the worst hit areas. These states are home to 500 million people, almost 40% of India’s population.
The North-East monsoon (October-December), which provides 10 to 20% of India’s rainfall, was deficient by 44% in 2018.The South-West monsoon (June-September) which provides 80% of rainfall, fell short by 9.4% in 2018–close to the 10% deficit range when government declares a “drought”. The southern peninsular region recorded the lowest rainfall, a deficit greater than 60%.
“Between January 2019 and February 15, 2019, there was no rain in 23% of the total 660 districts surveyed, which extended to 46% below normal in March. While this is not unusual in itself, combined with last year’s deficit, it has made the situation dire,” IndiaSpend quotes an expert as saying.
Lower rainfall has reduced water levels in reservoirs in many parts of India. The amount of water available in the country’s 91 major reservoirs has gone down 32 percentage points over five months to March 22, 2019. In 31 reservoirs of southern states, water level has gone down by 36 percentage points over five months.
In 31 reservoirs in the southern states, water availability stands at 25% of total capacity, which has gone down by 36 percentage points over five months, from 61% of the capacity in November 2018.
Body Blow for Agriculture
With 50% of India’s population dependent on agriculture and more than 50% of the cultivable area being rain-fed (without irrigation) the farm economy has taken the hardest blow.
Government programs, such as farm insurance and irrigation infrastructure are floundering, with the result, the farmer has no protection. Less than 5% of agricultural households cultivating paddy and wheat have insured their crops.
Failure in agriculture leads to joblessness. Even in a normal year, landless agricultural workers get only 150 to 160 days of work. The current drought has reduced this number further.
Irrigation Lags Behind
Of the 16 national water projects brought under the Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP), only five were underway in 2018, according a report of the Comptroller and Auditor General. Work on the remaining 11 was yet to begin. Of the 201 larger irrigation projects, 70% were not completed and 55.5% of irrigation target was not achieved, another report released in January 2019 said.
Inter-State water disputes further reduce the availability of water for farming. Karnataka for instance does not release enough water from the Cauvery river for Tamil, even defying orders of Tribunals.
Only 7.73 million hectares (mha) of India’s estimated 69.5 mha with drip and sprinkler irrigation potential, have actually got it.
In India, nearly 65% of irrigation supply and 85% of drinking water supply is from groundwater. But this source is getting rapidly depleted. In Bengaluru, bore-wells do not find water even at depths of 800 ft.
In a paper in Atlantic Council , Suresh P.Prabhu, says that industrial and domestic water demand will double in absolute quantities by 2025, as compared to 2005. The two sectors will then stake a claim of 11 percent and 8 percent respectively, on the total water demand.
Hydroelectricity now accounts for 19.3% of India’s total installed 201,637-megawatt grid capacity. Other power sources, such as coal, gas and nuclear, which account for two-thirds of India’s installed capacity, also require water for cooling purposes, Prabhu points out.
It is estimated that by 2050, more than half of India, or an estimated 800 million people, will be living in urban areas. Together with the semi-urban population, this could mean nearly a billion people relying on urban water utilities, he says
Poor management of available water makes the situation worse than it should be. In Delhi, for instance, 50% of the water is lost in transmission. Supply of free water and free electricity to pump water in several states has led to overuse and wasteful use of water.
Up to 70% of India’s water supply is “contaminated,” a Niti Aayog report says. And generally, deeper bore-wells have higher chances of arsenic and fluoride contamination, IndiaSpend points out.
Almost two-thirds of the diseases in India are caused by the type of water that people drink; one-third of fatalities are attributable to waterborne diseases.
There are very few cities in India where tap water is potable. In rural areas, common water bodies are polluted due to industrial effluents or runoff from fertilizers, pesticides, and insecticides, Prabhu points out.