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By Tej Singh Kardam

In one of the United Nations water conferences, the United Nations Organization passed a resolution, which says; “All the people, whatever their stage of development and their social and economic conditions, have the right to have access to drinking water in quantum and of quality equal to their basic needs”. The Supreme Court of India says, water is the basic need for survival and is part of the right to life and human rights as enshrined in Article 21 of the Constitution. Therefore, the right to water is a human right and a fundamental right.

The global water crisis dates back to when industrialisation started in the 18th century but water shortages first appeared in historical records during 1800. The United Nations member states in the decade from 2005-2015 prioritised water and sanitation development during International Decade for Action, ‘Water for Life’.

Recognising Right

It was during 2010 when the United Nations General Assembly recognised the right of each person to have adequate supplies of water for personal and domestic use that are physically accessible, equitably distributed, safe and affordable.

People are struggling to access quality and quantity of water they need for drinking, cooking, bathing, handwashing and growing their food. Therefore, the UN recognises the importance of addressing the global water crisis each year on World Water Day, March 22.

According to International Energy Agency, by 2035, the world energy consumption will increase 35%, which, in turn, will increase water use by 15%. Countries in future are going to face conflicts as 46% of the globe’s (terrestrial) surface is covered by transboundary river basins. Over the past 40 years, the world’s population has doubled and the use of water has quadrupled

Increasing Consumption

In 2050 increased population will result in a 19% increase in agricultural water consumption. The water demand is projected to grow 55% by 2050 – it includes a 400% rise in manufacturing water demand. Agriculture accounts for about 70% of global freshwater withdrawals which is up to 90% in developing economies. Seventeen countries face extremely high water-stress levels (more than 80%). India ranks 13th while 12 countries are in the Middle-East and North Africa. Climate change is set to complicate matters further.

India is also heading towards an unprecedented water crisis. According to a NITI Aayog report, at least half of the total population is under a deep water crisis. The country has 16% of the world’s population but possesses only 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. Our major rivers are dying because of pollution and their reservoirs are drying up during summer. Wells, ponds and tanks are drying up as groundwater resources come under increasing pressure due to overreliance and unsustainable consumption.

Nine Indian States and union Territories have been categorised as regions of “extremely high” water-stressed, including Chandigarh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and Madhya Pradesh. West-Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab are the worst affected Indo-Gangetic States in terms of water-stress, mainly due to decades-old cropping patterns – paddy, sugarcane and wheat dominate, all water-guzzlers. The World Wide Fund for Nature in its report in 2020 projected that 30 Indian cities would face a ‘grave water risk’ by 2050 due to an increase in population.

The World Bank estimates that 21% of communicable diseases in India are related to unsafe water. The NITI Aayog’s report has enlisted 21 cities, including Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai, that may exhaust their groundwater at any moment. On a per capita basis, water availability has been declining – from 1,816 cubic metres in 2001 to 1,546 in 2011 and 1,367 in 2021. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply.

Our Responsibility

Governments are taking necessary measures to solve the water crisis, but it is also the responsibility of the people to stop unnecessary wastage of water. Just to cite an example, in Hyderabad, more than 70 crore litres of drinking water was wasted per day in 2019.

‘Har Ghar Jal’ is a flagship programme of the Government of India, implemented by Jal Jeevan Mission under the Ministry of Jal Shakti, in partnership with the States/UTs, to ensure tap water connection in every rural household by 2024. A recent report from the Ministry of Jal Shakti indicates that Telangana, Haryana, Goa, Puducherry, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Dadar and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu have achieved 100% household tap-water connections. The Telangana government has taken initiative in solving the problem of water in Hyderabad for the next 50 years by drawing waters from Godavari and Krishna rivers.

In 2050, the world will be home to about ten billion people, but we will not have more freshwater than today. To avert this global crisis, we must change the utilisation of water resources. There is a need for sharing of water between countries that share a river, lake or underground aquifers. Agriculture must undergo transformation. Since all living organisms depend on water, more attention is required to the role of water in the ecosystem and to protect and restore forests, rivers, wetlands and oceans.

Reliable access to clean water is a cornerstone of sustainable development. The water crisis has become an alarming issue in sustainable development. Since only ‘half’ of one per cent of the world’s freshwater is available for the needs of both humanity and ecosystems, we must protect and judiciously utilise this invaluable resource if we are to ensure healthy ecosystems, healthy populations and economic development.

(The author is a retired IFS officer)

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Author: Howard Caldwell