Water Scarcity with reference to India

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  • Published
    31st Jan, 2019



According to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) data, October 2018, was the driest month for the country since 1976. In fact, the rainfall for the month was even lower than that drought years.

Although, the actual deficit last monsoon was modest — barely 10%. But the post-monsoon rainfall (October to December, 2018) has registered a 44% deficit. This national average deficit conceals shortages in some regions where it is much higher. In Marathwada and Vidarbha, the deficit is 84%, and 88% respectively. This low-rain and no-rain situation is going to aggravate the water crisis in India.


IMD Data: At a Glance

2018 was declared the sixth- warmest year since 1901, when recording started. Pointing towards changing weather and climate parameters, IMD also noted that the last monsoon rainfall was the sixth-lowest since 1901.

From IMD’s analysis, it is clear that India is witnessing consistent warmer seasons and pointed out that 11 out of 15 warmest years were in the last 15 years (2002-2018). The last year was also the consecutive third-warmest year after 2016 and 2017.

The past decade (2001-2010/2009-2018) was also the warmest on record, with anomalies of 0.23°C/0.37°C. The annual mean temperature during 1901-2018 showed an increasing trend of 0.6°C/100 years, with a significant increasing trend in maximum temperature (1.0°C/100 years), and relatively lower increasing trend (0.2°C/100 years) in minimum temperature.

A warming trend is now witnessed in all seasons including the winter (January-February). The country averaged season mean temperatures during all the four seasons, with the winter season (January-February, +0.59°C) being the 5th warmest since 1901 and the pre-monsoon season (March-May, with an anomaly of +0.55°C above average) being the 7th warmest ever since 1901.


What is water scarcity?

Water scarcity is the lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region. Water scarcity is being driven by two converging phenomena: growing freshwater use and depletion of usable freshwater resources. Water scarcity involves the following concepts:

Water stress: It is relatively a new concept; it is the difficulty of obtaining sources of fresh water for use during a period of time and may result in further depletion and deterioration of available water

Water shortage or deficits: Water shortages may be caused by climate change, such as altered weather patterns including droughts or floods, increased pollution, and increased human demand and over use of water.

Water crisis: A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region's demand.

Water scarcity can be a result of two mechanisms: physical (absolute) water scarcity and economic water scarcity, where physical water scarcity is a result of inadequate natural water resources to supply a region's demand, and economic water scarcity is a result of poor management of the sufficient available water resources.

Water profile of India

The two main sources of water in India are rainfall and the snowmelt of glaciers in the Himalayas. India has about 20 river basins. It receives an average annual precipitation of 4,000 billion cubic metres (BCM) which is the principle source of fresh water in the country. The total utilisable water resources of the country are assessed as 1086 km3. Thus, India has 2.5 percent of the land mass and 4 percent of the world's water resources but is home to nearly 18 per cent of the world’s population. As India develops and grows to support its 1.3 billion people, the country is on the brink of an inescapable crisis.

In 1951, the per capita water availability was about 5177 m3. This has now reduced to about 1816 cubic metre in 2001 and 1545 m3 in 2011. There is high variation in per capita water availability ranging from 263 cubic metres (CM) in the Sabarmati basin to 2013, 6 CM in Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghna system. With the country already experiencing water stress, there is need to augment both water supply in water-rich regions lacking infrastructure and manage water demand in water-scarce regions.

Causes for water scarcity

  • Inefficient use of water for agriculture. India is among the top growers of agricultural produce in the world and therefore the consumption of water for irrigation is amongst the highest (80 % of the water). Traditional techniques of irrigation causes maximum water loss due to evaporation, drainage, percolation, water conveyance, and excess use of groundwater
  • Policies like several states giving free electricity to farmers or giving financial support for groundwater extraction -- borewells and tube wells -- results in uncontrolled exploitation and wastage of resource.
  • Reduction in traditional water recharging areas. Rapid construction is ignoring traditional water bodies that have also acted as ground water recharging mechanism.
  • Water is not valued in India. It is very cheap commodity in India. People think that if they own the land, they own the water. India as a country extracts the highest amount of groundwater in the world.
  • Sewage and wastewater drainage into traditional water bodies.
  • Lack of on-time de-silting operations in large water bodies that can enhance water storage capacity during monsoon.
  • Lack of efficient water management and distribution of water between urban consumers, the agriculture sector and industry.
  • Non-existent pricing of water. State governments have control over water-related policies, and the lack of legislation for groundwater extraction and the inability to price water for every home due to political constraints has led to a paralysis in the formation of a sustainable framework.

Consequences of water scarcity

According to a report by Niti Aayog:

  • Six hundred million people are dealing with high to extreme water shortage. An average of 200,000 Indian lives is lost every year due to inadequate supply or contamination of water.
  • India does not have an adequate number of sewage treatment plants, so untreated urban wastewater is often added to water flowing downstream -- the same contaminated water used in rural areas for drinking. Three-quarters of the Indian population is affected by contaminated water, and 20% of the country's disease is thought to directly correlate.
  • 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting around 100 million people
  • About 75% of households do not have drinking water at home, 84% rural households do not have piped water access, and 70% of India’s water is contaminated, with the country currently ranked 120 among 122 in the water quality index.
  • The crisis is going to get worse. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions and an eventual loss of around 6% of the country’s GDP.
  • Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems, especially because approximately 53% of agriculture in India is rainfed. Interstate disagreements over water are on the rise, with seven major disputes raging right now.

According to World Bank report climate change impacts are likely to lower the living standards of nearly half of India’s population.

According to the report titled ‘South Asia's Hotspots: Impacts of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards’, rising temperatures and erratic rainfall pattern could cost India 2.8 per cent of its GDP. It says that almost half of South Asia, including India, lives in vulnerable areas and will suffer from declining living standards. Approximately 60 crore Indians live in areas where changes in average temperature and precipitation will negatively impact living standards.


India experiences both floods and droughts periodically. Nearly a third of the country’s geographical area is drought-prone whereas 12 per cent of the area is prone to floods. The effect of global warming further intensifies temporal and spatial variations in precipitation, melting of snow and water availability. This emphasises the fact that we need to consume water judiciously. Extensive use of micro-irrigation techniques such as drip and sprinkler irrigation can reduce wastage of water in agriculture sector. Strict monitoring and implementation of laws by the government, NGOs and social activists is also required.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

India experiences both floods and droughts periodically. In this context, analyse, the factors causing water scarcity in India.


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