Sat. October 10, 2015 Get Published  Get Alerts
India’s Water Woes

Supporting a population base of over 1.2 billion people are India’s fragile river systems that are on the brink of, or perhaps already are, an ecological disaster. Contaminated with untreated industrial and human waste, in many places the rivers waters are considered unfit for bathing, leave alone drinking. To compound the problem further, India’s ground water is falling at an alarming level, in some places going down 1 – 3 meters a year. The World Bank has predicted that India’s ground water table may even dry up in 12 – 15 years time. Acute water shortage may cripple the bustling nation’s peace and progress in times to come. Yet there seems little focus in the media on such a critical issue and activism or initiatives around the cause seem at best marginal. There is a need to bring the issue to the forefront so that the underlying causes can be addressed, while there still is time. What could be done to make safe and plentiful water a reality for the common man?

In terms of falling ground water table, a problem indeed in most parts of the world today, a key reason is poor agricultural practices. India’s agriculture still depends upon small scattered farms producing traditional crops using ground water for irrigation. As per election freebees, water and power are given free to farmers and they have little incentive to conserve the precious resource. India underwent a green revolution a few decades back which led to spurt in agricultural output but not enough attention was paid to water conservation in terms of crops selection or irrigation practices. India now needs a blue revolution in its agriculture to bring about optimum use of water and that would mean changing cropping patters to suit the natural climate and rainfall as well as consolidation of farms to improve efficiency. So long as agriculture revolves around tiny farms, it is hard to educate individual farmers or effectively bring about a change. In the present scenario, farming is also a non remunerative business only providing bare minimum sustenance to the famers often resulting in large number of suicides in several regions. A cooperative movement may be the need of the hour to amalgamate farms such that larger farms may be able to use machinery as well as technical knowhow for better productivity and efficient use of natural resources like water. There have been some such cooperative movements in the past which have borne good results and can serve as a good model. However nowadays, the economic focus is mainly on the manufacturing and services industries while a core sector like agriculture has taken a back seat with little initiatives other than election time stunts like free power, loan waivers etc. Amidst such apathy, the ground water table keeps falling at an alarming rate yet hardly raises an alarm.

India’s water problem is not just quantitative but also qualitative; its rivers have got so contaminated by human and industrial waste that they are often referred to as sewers and drains rather than rivers. For instance, the great river Ganges at places has been recorded to have fecal coli form levels at 1,00,000 per 100 ml – the highest such figure on Earth rendering the water unfit for even bathing. Waterborne illnesses such as typhoid, dysentery, diarrhea, cholera, gastroenteritis etc., afflict millions of people dependent on the river. Like the Ganges, many other rivers are also considered sacred but are equally putrid and increasingly dermatologists and doctors advise against the “holy dip” which is customary during the festivals. The water is so polluted that it leads to several skin infections. Under pressure from the Supreme Court, some city water boards have plans for sewage treatment plants which will make the waters fit for bathing. But having spent millions already on many such projects, it is doubted that the water boards can deliver on even such a basic task of making the water fit just for bathing while they are yet to even set any milestones for water fit for drinking. Also the Board alone could not carry out this task as there seems little pressure on industries that pump gallons of hazardous waste into the river system. In some cities like Kanpur, small scattered tanneries dump tons of poisonous waste into the water daily. As the rivers course their way through the plains, they accumulate all the waste of humankind and achieve a level of filth downstream that is crying out for attention and action. While various administrative bodies claim to have spent millions of rupees in cleaning up these rivers, the money seems to have gone down the drain, quite literally. The problem yet remains on cleaning up the rivers whereas the solution should focus on ensuring untreated waste is not dumped into the rivers in the first place. There should be stringent laws and penalties on industries big and small as well as city water boards for polluting the rivers. However, the key problem remains lack of sufficient attention or public outcry on the important cause.

These problems afflict most other developing countries too where safe drinking water is a far cry. Likewise, water table drying up is a global problem affecting almost every nation in the world from China to Africa to Central plains of America. It might be of great significance if there were an international movement to save water. Cooperation and sharing of best practices among nations may give a boost to agricultural productivity as well as enable means of conserving ground water. Similar sharing of best practices may also help frame laws and enforce mechanisms to contain rivers pollution. In the developing world summits, which usually focus mostly on their economic stories, the radar should be shifted to human rights issues like water which should be treated as a priority. As things stand, access to safe and plentiful drinking water is a basic human need that remains unquenched for billions across the world.

Anuradha Kataria is the author of the book Democracy on Trial, All Rise! - which is a critique of democracy in the developing world. She has also published several editorials on the developing world issues.

Comments in Chronological order (1 total comments)

Report Abuse
Mon, January 28, 2013 08:47 PM (about 23630 hours ago)
Anuradha..well written article...kind of scared the c*** out of me ( forgive my language). More people should be reading these articles to become conscious of the problem and spread the awareness. Imagine, the water table drying up in just 15-20 is scary.
Quick Links Twitter Face Book Get Alerts Contact Us Enter Ia-Forum Student Award Competition
10/09/2015: Europe as a relational good More
10/09/2015: Michael O'Hanlon discusses the future of American warfare More
10/09/2015: Africa in the news: Ibrahim Index shows stalled governance progress, slower African GDP growth in 2015 predicted, and U.S. companies lobby for Ex-Im Bank reauthorization More
10/09/2015: Norway’s oil fund: More than just a piggy bank More
10/09/2015: Ben Bernanke and the Art of Central Banking More
10/09/2015: Russia's Syrian entanglement: Can the West sit back and watch? More
10/09/2015: Who pays attention to global development goals? More
10/09/2015: Social Ethics in a Changing China : Moral Decay or Ethical Awakening? More
10/08/2015: Investment in health for poverty reduction: New evidence and data challenges More
10/08/2015: The domestic controversy over China’s foreign aid and the implications for Africa More
10/08/2015: Hutchins Roundup: Social Security benefits, hospital quality, and more More
10/08/2015: Hutchins Roundup: Social Security benefits, hospital quality, and more More
10/08/2015: A dispatch from Afghanistan: What the Taliban offensive in Kunduz reveals More
10/07/2015: A Discussion on the Refugee Crisis in Europe More
10/07/2015: Why a new Cold War can be avoided More
10/07/2015: What's Really Wrong with Obama's Syria Approach, and Why His Critics' Approach Is Worse More
10/07/2015: Reassessing US Competitiveness More
10/07/2015: Event: Reassessing US Competitiveness More
10/07/2015: Déjà vu? Saudi clerics declare jihad on Russia More
10/07/2015: India today: A conversation with Indian members of parliament More
10/07/2015: Normalizing U.S. Relations with Cuba Leads to Escalation in Repression of Cuban Dissidents More
10/07/2015: And Coming Up on the Left, Bernie Sanders More
10/07/2015: European Court of Justice strikes down U.S.-EU data transfer agreement More
10/06/2015: What's Next for TPP? More
10/06/2015: Interaction between monetary policy and macroprudential policies: Challenges faced by the ECB [pdf] More
10/06/2015: Threat analysis and multilateral counterterrorism More
10/06/2015: Threat analysis and multilateral counterterrorism More
10/06/2015: Kohn calls U.S. systemic regulation inadequate, urges learning from U.K. More
10/06/2015: China in Its Labyrinth More
10/06/2015: The Changed Goal of Transition More
10/06/2015: Why Lifting Oil Export Ban Can Help U.S. Foreign Policy More
10/06/2015: Education and taxes can't reduce inequality More
10/06/2015: How to fix Jeb's plan for corporate tax reform More
10/06/2015: Obama Must Resist 'Do More' Calls on Syria More
10/05/2015: TPP: The end of the beginning More
10/05/2015: IMF’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals More
10/05/2015: IMF’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde on how to implement the Sustainable Development Goals More
10/05/2015: Three new books, three new looks inside the financial black box More
10/05/2015: Three new books, three new looks inside the financial black box More
10/05/2015: Why Europe can't handle the migration crisis More
10/05/2015: Why Europe can't handle the migration crisis More
10/05/2015: Final TPP Agreement Is Welcome News More
10/05/2015: Toward a ‘Reaganov’ Russia: Assessing trends in Russian national security policy after Putin More
10/05/2015: Toward a ‘Reaganov’ Russia: Assessing trends in Russian national security policy after Putin More
10/05/2015: The Real Victims of Endless Financial Regulations More
10/05/2015: Xi-Obama Summit: Modest Achievements and Missed Opportunities More
10/05/2015: Russia Follows U.S. Script and Intervenes in Syria: Vladimir Putin Wrecks Washington's Mideast Plans More
10/05/2015: Release day for "The Courage to Act" More
10/05/2015: Obama-Xi meeting more fruitful than anticipated More
10/04/2015: How the Fed saved the economy More
About | Contact Us | Support Us | Terms and Conditions

All Rights Reserved. Copyright 2002 - 2015