Water shortage: Challenges and opportunities
With India facing an erratic monsoon, dwindling water resources and leaky pipes, there is an urgent need for rainwater harvesting and better water management practices to cope with the situation.
The problem is further compounded by the receding groundwater level and contamination of water with pollutants causing water-borne diseases, says a report published by the World Resources Institute India.
Over a 100 million people in the country depend on polluted water for their use. Only 59 out of the 632 districts surveyed were found to have groundwater fit for consumption, while the bulk of the water resources had pollutants like chlorine, fluoride, iron, arsenic, and nitrate exceeding the safety standards.
The surge in industrialisation and urbanisation accounts for over 40% of India's water consumption every year, while it is around 80% for the north-western region alone. Since about 65% of cultivable land in the country lacks irrigation facilities, one can understand the plight of farmers who depend on groundwater and rainfall for their livelihood.
At another level, says a study conducted by the New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment in 71cities, India loses 40% of the water supply during transit, including leakage in pipes. Clearly, the water sector presents challenges and opportunities for growth and development.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), based in Hyderabad (Telangana state), is leading a drive aimed at "Integrating bio-treated wastewater reuse with enhanced water use efficiency to support the green economy in EU and India."
Smaat Aqua Technologies (also from Hyderabad) has developed a mobile water treatment plant to de-contaminate untreated water. The system, which is based on the reverse osmosis process, works by filtering out substances like bacteria, algae, viruses, fungi, iron, sulphur and other chemicals to make wastewater fit for irrigation.
Chennai's Metro Water is also said to be providing 45 Million Litres per Day (MLD) of treated water to industries, according to S Janakarajan, professor of Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), in Chennai.
In their joint research, "Corporate Social Responsibility Practices in India: A Study of Top 500 Companies," Richa Gautam and Anju Singh observe that "Many companies are making token gestures towards CSR and only a few companies have a structured and planned approach…CSR is on an upward learning curve and is primarily driven by philanthropy." They refer to Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd., which promotes rainwater harvesting among other initiatives as part of community service.
The use of GIS technology could facilitate mapping water resources and identifying loopholes in the system. There is immense scope for deploying such a technology, since "a net area of 54 mha is irrigated at present. This can go up to a maximum of 65 mha by 2020 and 85 mha in the next 50 years. It is obvious that during this period much greater attention…has to be given to watershed management and development," note G.N. Kathpalia and Rakesh Kapoor in their report, "Water Policy and Action Plan for India 2020: An Alternative."
However, the main stumbling block is lack of awareness on converting challenges into opportunities. To this end, a private high school in Sirsi (northern Karnataka) promotes water literacy among its students, including residents of five Malnad districts. They also learn about rainwater harvesting based on 28 models of water conservation.
Some of these initiatives include: Infiltration pit, contour trench, staggered trench, open well recharge, bore well recharge, gully plug, recharge through termite hills, roof water usage and practical demonstrations like measuring rain, plugging leaky taps and other water conservation measures. A percolation tank laid on an adjoining playground collects the surface run-off during rainfall. The name board calls it a 'water vessel' created by Shivanand Kalave, a development journalist. Similarly, in Chikmagalur district, also in Karnataka, a mechanical engineer has converted a vehicle into a mobile school on water literacy teaching people how to conserve water resources. There are opportunities galore on the water front.