Cresting Water Abundance Through Conservation and Judicious Use


  • The world today faces imminent threats due to water scarcity with implications for world peace, justice and security. Water scarcity affects socio-economic growth.
  • Around 4 billion people or two-third of the world’s population face severe water shortage for at least one month every year.
  • Water scarcity can result in low productivity and crop failure, leading to food shortages, increasing prices and subsequent hunger.
  • Agriculture accounts for approximately 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals and is perceived as one of the main factors behind the increasing global scarcity of freshwater. Globally, irrigation water withdrawals are expected to grow by about 6 per cent in 2050.

India’s current water crisis:

  • One third of India’s districts are affected by severe drought, affecting some 33 crore people in 256 districts in 10 states.
  • Since January 2015, around 1000 farmers have killed themselves due to acute drought and debt in Karnataka.
  • Some 1000 villages in 8 districts of gujarat are suffering from acute drinking water crisis.
  • Water wagons from Miraj in Western Maharashtra are serving the dry regions of Latur.
  • The Bundelkhand districts across MP and UP continue to reel under third drought in a row.
  • Shimla, Himachal Pradesh is an example of a hill town facing acute water shortage and Jaundice outbreak due to contaminated water supply.
  • Power production was disrupted in Farakka, West Bengal due to water shortage.
  • This shortfall of water across the States has led to crop failures, mass forced migration, suicide, deaths, closing down of health care facilities and industry. It has seriously affected the health of women and children.
  • This problem has been more due to water mismanagement than its actual scarcity.

Reversing the trend: Creating Water Abundance

  • Concerted, consistent and sustained efforts can lead to drought proofing and creating water abundance. It can also help alleviating the challenges posed by climate change.
  • For this to happen, cooperation from all stakeholders is required.
  • The first step in water management would involves undertaking comprehensive, consistent and constant campaigns to re-establish the relationship between people and water.
  • Awareness generation among communities is the prerequisite for water conservation activities. It will also mean people taking charge of water management and making and adhering to commitments.

Immediate steps to handle immediate crisis:

  • Formation of drought mitigation committees in the villages comprising panchayat members and representatives of all interest groups. These committees can take care of, and monitor, drought requirements and management.
  • Elicit commitment to prevent suicide by farmers.
  • Arrange for tanker water supply where there is drinking water scarcity. Involve villagers to ensure that the water is safe and provided to all in the village.
  • Arrange for water and fodder for livestock in livestock camps to stop forced selling and abandoning of the livestock by poor people.
  • Assess the functioning of the public distribution system (PDS) and other programmes under the Right to Food and ensure availability of food grains to the affected.
  • Restore/rehabilitate/create water conservation structures. Villagers must be awared about rain water harvesting.
  • Funds allocated for MGNREGA must be directed towards reviving and creating water conservation structures. There is a need to facilitate smooth and swift transfer of funds to the villagers.

Long Term Measures:

  • This will require detailed planning and funds.
  • India is blessed with an annual average rainfall of 1100 mm most of which falls in around 100 hours. This primary source of water must be captured either for direct use, or for recharge of groundwater aquifers and surface waterbodies.
  • If rain is not managed well, it leads to flooding during the monsoon and water scarcity in the following months. The option is to capture the rain and create a ‘water bank’ for current and future use.
  • Every region of India has had traditional water harvesting systems suited to the region, which must be revived at scale. These models can be tested, replicated and modified if required to suit contemporary needs.

Water conservation: Cross Country Community Efforts, Some Examples

  • In Bundelkhand, Parmarth, a civil society organisation is supporting resilience amongst the drought affected families. Jal Sahelis are managing in-village water supply and water conservation efforts.
  • Under Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS) project implemented in 7 drought prone districts of AP, farmers are managing their groundwater systems and have adopted suitable agricultural options.
  • Drought prone Laporiya village in Rajasthan has a unique dyke system called the ‘chauka’ to capture rainwater, improving water availability for drinking and harvest.

Artificial Groundwater Recharge: Subsurface Water Banks:

  • The percentage of recharging of groundwater needs to be at least doubled. This is easily possible by natural processes and artificially directing rainwater into underground aquifers.
  • Rainwater harvesting and artificial groundwater recharges serves dual purpose: Absorbing excess water and releasing it when required.
  • Artificial groundwater recharge is the infiltration of surface water into shallow aquifers to
  • Increase the quantity of water in the subsurface.
  • Improve its quality by natural attenuation processes.
  • Artificial infiltration of surface water into aquifers offers qualitative and quantitative advantages.
  • Natural processes reduce the contamination of infiltrated river water.
  • Generally, artificially recharged groundwater is better protected against pollution than surface water, and the delimitation of water protection zones makes it safer. Artificial recharge thus offers a tremendous potential.
  • If rainwater conservation is undertaken in rural and urban areas from the smallest unit up to the state then there is cause for optimism.

Water conservation: Sectoral approach

Agriculture sector:

  • This sector has to tackle multiple water related issues:
  • Low efficiency in water use.
  • Declining water availability.
  • Increasing food demand.
  • Changing food habits.
  • Commitments under Right to Food.
  • Competitive demands over water.

Some of the options for increasing water use efficiency in agriculture include:

  • Promote agricultural crops which can grow in available water. Local varieties should be encouraged and a minimum price/market and marketing system should be developed for these.
  • Adoption of Micro Irrigation such as drip and sprinkler irrigation can result in saving between 40-80 per cent of water. Irrigation methods such as irrigation scheduling, tillage, mulching and fertilisation can also result in higher utilisation of waters by crops, enhancing their productivity.
  • Land and water management practices such as soil-water conservation, adequate land preparation for crop establishment, rainwater harvesting, conservation tillage to increase water infiltration, reduce run off and improve soil moisture.
  • Using laser levelling technique which removes unevenness of soil surface, having significant impact on the germination, stand and yield of crops. It can save water and enhance output.
  • System of Rice Intensification (SRI): it reduces water requirement and the growth days resulting in increased water productivity of rice. It is also useful for sugarcane cultivation.


  • Water use by industry has led to misuse and pollution creating a situation of water scarcity and poor water quality.
  • There has to be a change in the way industries perceive water i.e. from the traditional view of water as a cheap resource available in plenty, to one that has competitive users and affects basic human rights.
  • Companies are eager to reduce their water footprint, get certified for their water responsive behaviour and products.

Some of the options before the industry are given below:

  • Increasing water efficiency: a systematic approach can reduce water consumption by 25-50 per cent.
  • Some of the methods that can reduce water footprint include:
  • Change in technology from water cooling to air cooling.
  • Replacing of water intensive equipment and fixtures.
  • Waste water recycling and reuse into industrial process.
  • Rain water harvesting and its use.
  • Life cycle analysis: It can help to assess the environmental impact associated with the various stages of a product’s life right from the cradle to the grave.
  • Supply chain water management: companies are designing effective water management strategies for their supply chain. For instance, H&M in partnership with WWF has established pillars of water management.
  • Water offset: For situations where water consumption cannot be reduced through efficiency improvements, water reuse or recycling, ‘water offsets’ investments to watershed are adopted. It involves planting trees or investing in efficiency measures in far off lands.


Among the 17 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by UN, Goal 6 is dedicated for ensuring access to water and sanitation for all. In the context of India, challenges for achieving this goal are immense but possible, provided some steps are taken at the earliest. Elaborate.

Source: Yojana, July Edition
Chanakya IAS


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