How serious is the global water crisis? And is the international community doing enough to help resolve it?

January 29, 2010

The global water crisis is a crisis of mismanagement. Indiscriminate use of water and the “flush and forget” mindset has worsened the crisis by adding the pollution challenge. This has severe implications on the society, especially the poor, its health and socio-economic well-being. Take for instance India where about 85 per cent of urban sewage goes untreated, polluting water supply sources like rivers, lakes and groundwater. And remember polluted water is the biggest killer of babies (infants). Growing urbanisation and industrialisation, especially in the developing countries, coupled with the impacts of climate change will add to water woes. Unless we rethink the paradigm of water and sewage management based on principles of affordability, sustainability and equity we will see increased incidences of water conflicts between different users within the country – urban and rural, irrigation and industries and also between countries. Flash points are already seen in different parts of the globe.

India is a well endowed country in terms of water resources. But mismanagement of theses resources has lead to a crisis of water in cities and villages. It is expected that in 2025, the per capita water availability in India will be reduced to 1500 cubic metres from 5000 in 1950.

An important reason is pollution of water resources. Sewage and domestic waste is a major pollutant of our surface water systems and ground water. Rivers in India are highly polluted due to discharge of untreated sewage and industrial waste. For instance in river Yamuna, which 80 per cent of the pollution is due to sewage. To add to it the increasing domestic demand for water in the urban centres has lead to excessive pressure on our water bodies.

Further the pollution and destruction of surface water bodies has put undue pressure on groundwater resources. With no check on the water usage, there is excessive withdrawal of ground water. Recharge is not happening at the same level. As a result groundwater tables are drastically falling in all parts of the country.

People have moved away from the traditional systems of water harvesting and management, like Kundis in Rajasthan and Neerkattis in Tamil Nadu.