India is facing its greatest ever water crisis, a government advisory body has warned. NITI Aayog, a think tank, analyzed data from 24 of India’s 29 states and found that over 600 million Indians are facing critical water shortages. According to the report, nearly 70% of the nation’s water is contaminated, seeing it placed 120th among 122 countries in relation to water quality index with the situation “only going to get worse” in the future. The study claims the territory’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply. Figures released by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, found that around “200,000 Indians die every year due to a lack of access to clean water.”
The research predicts: “More than 20 cities, including New Delhi, Bengaluru and Chennai, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.” To understand the extent of the crisis, the architects of the study produced The Composite Water Management Index (CWMI), the first comprehensive collection of countrywide water data in India. They claim that the index is a “major step towards creating a culture of data-based decision-making which can encourage ‘competitive and cooperative federalism’ in the country’s water governance.”
The report has successfully shined a light on this under-researched problem that could become a humanitarian disaster with far-reaching global consequences. The findings show how much India relies on critical groundwater resources which “account for 40% of the water supply, but are being depleted at unsustainable rates.” This significant problem combined with the rising frequency of droughts and limited policy responses will only continue to increase the pressures on the much-needed supply. This toxic combination could lead to conflict and significant food security risks. In an interview with Al Jazeera, Mridula Ramesh, a climate change author, claims: “Part of (the crisis) is because of the rising temperature, and the changing rainfall patterns that come with the changing climate…Indians are going to pay a heavy price when the water runs out.” In response, Ramesh endorses a “national price for water” to invest in proper water management and avoid this unprecedented potential calamity.
However, the findings of the report show that improvements are being made with 15 of the 24 states scoring better than they did the previous year. Nonetheless, looking ahead, the research calculates that about 40% of the population will have no access to clean drinking water by 2030, with its scarcity accounting for a six percent loss in India’s gross domestic product (GDP). Many desperate cities and villages are already trying hard to push back their “Day Zero” (when water taps run dry).
It is clear the time for action to prevent a humanitarian disaster is now, but the report warns that policymakers face a problematic situation due to the lack of data available on how households and industries use and manage water. The future stability of the world’s seventh largest economy and home to 10.1% of the global population will depend on how appropriately the Indian government will respond to this looming catastrophe, with investment and research needed much sooner rather than later.