Radical thinking needed if India is to avoid water collapse
When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi undertook a historic visit to Israel recently, the two countries put pen to paper on a bilateral memorandum of understanding on water conservation collaboration.
In India, polluted and dried-up rivers, poor storage infrastructure, contaminated groundwater and shrinking aquifers – to name but a handful of problems – have turned the country’s water woes into a hydra-headed monster.
With 76 million people – approximately 5% of the country’s total population – living without access to safe drinking water, many experts believe India faces a looming internal water war that will jeopardize all of its ambitious developmental projects, from “Make in India” to building smart cities.
Arjun Thapan, the current chairman of Unesco’s International Hydrological Program Advisory Board and also of the pan-Asian non-profit WaterLinks, says the World Economic Forum’s 2030 Water Resources Group first predicted, way back in 2010, that demand for water would exceed supply by 50% in India by 2030.
“The forecast was based on a study, made by McKinsey and others, of demand-supply variation across India’s major river basins and levels of efficiency in supply and consumption, relative to economic growth,” says Thapan, who chaired the WEF’s global council on water security at the time.
India has the world’s highest number of people without access to clean water, according to the international charity Water Aid.
As India’s leading policy research organization, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), estimates, a threefold rise in water requirements in the industrial sector by 2050 is likely to mean India will lose competitive advantage simply because of a lack of water.
“India is already in the throes of a very serious water crisis,” Thapan asserts, warning that the country’s industrial sector remains inefficient in its water use.
Will launching a conservation campaign and improving water governance be enough for India to tackle water scarcity or is there a need to enact radical statutes to manage available water resources more efficiently?
“India is so large, complicated and diverse that simple answers do not exist,” feels Uri Shani, a former director general of Israel’s Water Authority, who presided over a revolution in supplying, managing, reusing and pricing water in Israel.