– by Neeti Raina
The recent Chennai water crisis was an eye-opener that brought home the enormity of how real the eventuality of running out of water is – and how other cities in India might eventually face the same situation sooner or a tad bit later. The day when Chennai was left with almost no water, officials declared that all the four reservoirs – supplying water to the city—had dried up. The reason—monsoon rainfall since late 2017 and much of 2018 were way below normal. Chennai’s rainfall deficit in 2018 was recorded at 55%.
A similar fate could befall other smart cities — New Delhi, Hyderabad. Groundwater could completely run out of the water if conservation and management are not adopted.
Though it’s 2019 and it has been 73 years since independence, India, Asia’s third-largest economy with a GDP of 2.7 trillion dollars, is still dependent on monsoons for agriculture and water. Monsoons have a major and direct impact on India’s largely agrarian economy. Good rainfall spurs a positive effect on economic activity and industries linked to it. To put it in the right perspective, 70% of the country’s population depends on farming and 58% of the total employment is through agriculture which contributes to around 18% of GDP.
Accounting for 70% of annual rainfall, monsoons are a crucial source of water supply for just about everything from households to agriculture to industries. These rains replenish groundwater and reservoirs. In recent years, though, deficient rainfall has triggered water crisis to the extent that a vast number of people don’t have clean drinking water. And yet conserving and managing this precious resource has not turned into a high priority area. Year-after-year, some parts of the country have floods and, at the same time, other regions have a severe drought. Other factors like change in rainfall patterns, inappropriate land use, climate change, and population growth have further worsened the situation.
Whether it was methods like a river-linking project, making watersheds, improving storage of surface water, recharging groundwater or developing stormwater drains, the approach and attitude towards water conservation have not delivered desired results. If it lacked the political will or faced a fund crunch or just lackadaisical attitude of policymakers, it remains a matter of debate.
Water engineering– harvesting and management– was pioneered in India from the time of Indus valley civilization. Dholavira settlement was laid out on a slope between two stormwater channels. Whether its Rajasthan’s Bawaris’s (unique step-wells), Talab (reservoirs for household purposes), or South Bihar’s Ahar Pynes (floodwater harvesting system), Odisha’s Panghara (recharging and conserving groundwater) each region in Indian through centuries has had its unique conservation system to create a water-secure future.
But why has India gone from being a traditionally a water-conserving nation to a completely monsoon-dependent entity, where, if the rainfall is below normal, entire cities dry up and the economy is impacted by the ripple-effect? And how can that be reversed?
The answer lies in a very simple logic– involvement of people and communities at every level, every step of the way. Making people responsible for and custodians of this natural resource vital for survival. Till the time state-driven mechanisms take root, it is the people who hold the key to creating water-secure present and, of course, the future then.
Involvement of people at every level in houses, schools, societies, office complexes will save the day. Be it in the process of rainwater harvesting where rainwater is collected from rooftops and stored in covered tanks or treatment of sewage at local points for non-drinking purposes and irrigation or just plain use of new. Teaching the public at large and creating public awareness about the value of each drop of water, public participation is the way forward. It’s pertinent to mention Israel here, the global leader in water conservation and management if we have to make our future water secure. It has developed an efficient and successful mechanism of saving water and can function almost independently of rain. Among various initiatives, one of the remarkable steps is, it treats 80 % of its sewage and uses the water for irrigation and public works, etc. Only 20% of the treated water is lost. An interesting fact to ponder over and think about.