Water is the most important natural resource on earth after air which is essential for human existence. As about 3% of all water on earth is fit for consumption by living beings, it becomes even more vital than other resources. A nation with ample supply of water ensures a more progressive economy while a nation facing acute shortage of water falls into a spiral of poverty and political anarchy, as in some South American countries.
India is also currently facing a severe drought situation which has arisen due to continuous below average monsoon for the past few years. These unsatisfactory levels of rain have led to acute shortage of water in many parts of the country, especially in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Odisha and Maharashtra. While states like Bihar, West Bengal and Haryana are nearing drought. The ground water levels have tanked to1000-1200 feet in some areas. This has led to several deaths, especially of farmers unable to pay back their loans along with scores of cattle as well.
Now let us consider the remedies for the factors that lead to such situations in the longer run.
As charity begins at home, the government should incentivize people to adopt rainwater harvesting techniques in their homes and localities to capture rainwater. In New Delhi, where access to water is a constant struggle for thousands, a staggering 69 billion liters of water can be conserved if we can capture the rain from the rooftops alone!
In rural areas, the concept of collective ownership of water by the stakeholders should be encouraged where the locals are responsible for the usage and conservation of water resources. It has been successfully implemented in case of forest conservation in various parts of India.
Another way is to practice afforestation, both by the government and the people. Trees help to prevent run-off of rainwater and speed up the ground water recharge rate. Trees also help to prevent the loss of top soil, maintaining the fertility of soil.
The negative effects of green revolution are being felt now. The eroding quality of land, air and water and rapid decline in water table in rural areas are its repercussions. A second wave of reforms should be introduced focusing on being environment friendly and efficient in a more sustainable way. Also, the procurement process of foodgrains should be more equitable for the states and farmers should be encouraged to cultivate crops which are suitable to their climatic and soil conditions. The MSP (Minimum Support Price) should cover more crops under it so that the foodgrain production becomes more balanced.
The recharge rate of surface water is much faster than ground water. So, popular methods of irrigation like tube wells would only make the situation worse. Alternative farming methods like drip irrigation should be encouraged to minimize the use of water in agriculture. The National Mission on Micro Irrigation program has been recently initialized, providing financial and technical assistance to farmers to install drip irrigation systems.
In urban areas the problem of destruction of natural sources of water in the form of encroachments is also a big issue. This has caused substantial damage during recent floods in Jammu and Kashmir and Uttarakhand. These water bodies not only act as ground water rechargers but also absorb rain water during monsoons and prevent flooding. So governments must ensure a minimum level of ecological balance while it goes for economic development. The recently introduced Smart Cities program should go a long way in this direction.
The last step is related to the phenomenon of global warming which is intimately linked with such drought like situations. It is a much complex in nature and this crisis should be understood as a part of it. Worldwide, it has changed the weather patterns and has affected the monsoons adding to its erratic and unpredictable nature. It is a threat to water security to billions of poor across Asia and Africa. A more sustainable, inclusive and sensible path to development is the only way to contain the future ramifications of global warming.
In all, such a situation can be prevented in future only if we learn from our mistakes and make necessary amends. It is the collective responsibility of the government, environmental agencies and individuals to protect the environment and natural resources so that the future generations may also enjoy the gifts that we are enjoying at present.
- Sukhomay Chatterjee