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Parched Present, Parched Future

Water scarcity and heatwaves have been prominent in large parts of the country which have been reeling under a drought-like situation.

How did heatwaves and water stress affect India?

1. Heatwaves killed hundreds and the accompanying water scarcity accentuated the vulnerability and crisis situation this year.

2. In cities like Chennai and Ranchi, water stress led to violent clashes and distress.

3. The lakes and reservoirs dried up and people had to fight and fend for water for their everyday needs.

What are the reasons for “groundwater drought” like situation in India?

1. India is a country that is guzzling its groundwater at a rate unmatched by any other and is not treated as a public good.

2. Delay in monsoon and poor rainfall.

3. Lowering water tables across the country.

4. Even eastern India, which is considered as “water-affluent,” is staring at a future with groundwater drought.

Whom does the water stress affect?

1. Water stress re-emphasizes inequalities of gender, caste, and region.

2. Women have been burdened with the responsibility of arranging for water, in situations of crisis.

3. It also leads to practices such as those reported in Denganmal village in Thane district, Maharashtra where men marry for the second or third time for the sole purpose of getting “water wives” or “paaniwaali bais” to fetch water through the day.

4. Such villages are incidentally close to rivers and dams, but the supply being directed towards Mumbai, women plough on to get water covering long distances, even as they are the last in their households to get to use it.

Why is access to water unequal among people across India?

1. There is an inherent inequality in distribution and a failure to share ­water judiciously.

2. It is evident in megacities like Delhi and Mumbai where access depends on income and social status.

3. In Chennai, while apartment buildings could afford to pay for three or four tankers per day, low income households could not during the crisis situation. This city has lost over 350 lakes.

4. Market is playing an important role in determining the cost and beneficiaries.

5. Among rural households, only 18% are said to have access to piped water.

6. Small farmers are worse off and are forced to take their lives or migrate in drought conditions.

7. Cities in India thrive on the water brought from far away locations at a high cost and with loss involved in transmission.

8. They have ignored the maintenance of structures like tanks.

Where are the challenges and opportunities?

Challenges

1. The expansion of ­cities fails to consider the access to water and to mandate provisions like harvest rainwater, and reuse, recycle and treat wastewater.

2. The real estate boom has promoted the tanker lobby and increased water extraction, along with usurping of the floodplains and the green cover.

3. Encroachment on the “land” retrieved after levelling waterbodies, has led to reduced storage and seepage of water, and aggravates flood situations.

4. The quality of water that is discharged by the cities and the industries remains contaminated, leading to an estimated two lakh deaths in a year.

5. Most of the farming close to cities is being done using the untreated wastewater, which contains heavy metals and toxic chemicals, further compromising public health.

6. The present water crisis has encouraged comparisons with the “day zero” situation of Cape Town.

7. Such projections also create a situation of panic, and a push to “solutions” which will worsen the situation.

8. The interlinking of rivers, pushed for despite evidence of poor functioning of existing hydro projects, will only spell disaster and more conflicts.

Opportunities

1. It is required to move towards:

a. Water-prudent crops and lifestyles,

b. Augmented storage and regulation of the usage of water and policies that take into account the inequalities in access, and

c. Real time data of its consumption.

2. Also, waterbodies in their healthy and natural state have the ability to replenish themselves along with a capacity to contain the intensity of climate crisis.