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Water Future in a Climate-Risked World: The Indian Experience

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  • Published
    8th Jun, 2021
  • In the Union Budget 2021, the Government has included water in the health component of the country’s accounts. This is a game-changer as it recognizes the role of clean water as a critical preventive health measure.
  • Water scarcity is indeed growing. However, it is not inevitable that cities will run out of water. This is due to the fact that water is a replenishable resource - it snows and rains each year.
  • More importantly, other than in the case of agriculture, we do not consume water. We use and discharge. Therefore, it can be treated and then reused and recycled. So, this is one future we can change. For this, we need to get the policy and practice of water management right.

Water management in India (timeline)

  • 1980s: Till the late 1980s, water management was largely confined to the issue of irrigation projects. But the droughts in late 1980s made clear that it was not enough to plan for augmenting water only through large projects.
  • 1990s: In the droughts of the late 1990s, state governments launched massive programmes to capture rainwater.
  • Mid-2000: By the mid-2000, these efforts coalesced into the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, investing labor into building rural water assets.
    • By this time, it was also understood that groundwater- considered a “minor” resource was the “major” supplier of water for both drinking water and irrigation in the country.
    • It was also understood that over 50 per cent of agriculture was still rainfed and so water conservation and decentralized rainwater harvesting was critical for productivity and well-being.
  • 2010: In the decade of 2010, the crisis of urban drought hit homes. It was learned that augmenting water supply was only one part of the challenge. The other challenges included long distance source, pumping and piping led to discharge loss and electricity consumption thus making available water expensive and more inequitable.

How dried water supply changed the situation?

  • Declining water levels: As water supply dried up, people turned to ground water without recharge thus resulted in declining water levels.
  • Pollution of rivers: Also, the water supply was linked to pollution — the more the water supplied the more is wastewater generation. This, without adequate treatment, leads to pollution of rivers.
    • The sewage treatment infrastructure was not designed to fit the city sanitation system and so remained underutilized. Rivers remained polluted.

In all this, new solutions emerged — if the affordable water supply was critical, then cities needed to cut the length of their distribution pipelines. If cities needed to ensure affordable sanitation for all and affordable treatment of wastewater, onsite systems could be re-engineered so that waste was collected from each household, transported, and treated.

Water management practices

  • The Indian experience shows the world how water management can be reinvented so that it is affordable and sustainable; it puts water in the hands of communities and focused on decentralized recharge and reuse. Making water everybody's business is the only way ahead.
  • In order to ensure sustainability of the water supply systems, the Government’s Har Ghar Jal mission has recognized the fundamental flaw in water infrastructure projects and, therefore, has stressed on sustainability as a key objective.
  • This requires focusing on improving the durability of the water asset that is created — it means ensuring that the pond or lake or tank is not encroached and that the watershed is not destroyed.
  • Water security requires to give greater control over the water structures to the local community to ensure water management.


In today’s climate-risked world, our water future is about our water wisdom and in this we must recognize that water and culture go together.


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