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 The Worst Water Crisis In History: Niti Aayog 

Date of Publish - Tuesday, 2nd July 2019

The report on the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) published by the National Institution for Transforming India, or the NITI Aayog, has revealed the extent of the water crisis in India. The report released by the Indian minister for water resources on 14th June has stated that India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat. The CWMI is a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive scorecard for identifying, targeting, and solving problems in the water sector across the country. The NITI Aayog is the premier policy ‘think-tank’ of the Government of India and it was formed to replace the Planning Commission in 2015.

The report on the CWMI states that 600 million people in India are now in the grip of high to extreme water stress and predicted that the crisis is only going to get worse. It also projected that by 2030, the country’s water demand will be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people. India is placed at 120th among 122 countries in the water quality index and up to 70% of all supplied water in the country is likely to be contaminated, with around two lakh deaths every year attributed to inadequate safe water access.

Critical groundwater resources, which account for 40% of the country’s water supply, are being depleted at unsustainable rates. Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems for farmers, with 53% of agriculture in India being rainfall dependent. Regional disagreements are on the rise and there is an urgent need for suitable frameworks for national water governance. The economic costs for the country will be enormous, with predictions of up to 6% loss in the Gross Domestic Product eventually.

The CWMI comprises nine themes covering groundwater and surface water restoration, major and medium irrigation, watershed development, participatory irrigation management, on-farm water use, rural and urban water supply, and policy and governance. The themes are further sub-divided into 28 indicators. The Indian states were divided into two special groups – Non-Himalayan states and North-Eastern and Himalayan states, to account for the different hydrological conditions across these groups.

Despite the ongoing water crisis, Gujarat has topped the CWMI among the non-Himalayan states, while Tripura has been adjudged as the best among the northeastern and Himalayan states. The key results of the Index indicate water management is improving across-the-board, but all states can do better. Most states have achieved a score below 50% and could significantly improve their water resource management practices. Scarcity and need are driving positive action and several water-scarce states like Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana are the leaders in Index performance.

The low performing states on the CWMI are home to 50% of the country’s population and its agricultural baskets. The poor performance of the populous northern states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, and others, on the Index highlights a significant water management risk for the country. Further, these states also account for 20-30% of India’s agricultural output. Given the combination of rapidly declining groundwater levels and limited policy action, this is also likely to be a significant food security risk for the country going forward.

Most states have achieved less than 50% of the total score in the augmentation of groundwater resources, highlighting the growing national crisis—54% of India’s groundwater wells are declining, and 21 major cities are expected to run out of groundwater as soon as 2020, affecting 100 million people. Further, 70% of states have also achieved scores of less than 50% on managing on-farm water effectively. Given the fact that agriculture accounts for 80% of all water use, this poses significant water and food security risks for the country. Finally, states have also performed averagely on providing safe drinking water to rural areas. With 70% of the country’s population living in rural areas, this is one of the most critical service delivery challenges in the world.

Despite the worsening water crisis in the country and significant challenges, there is room for optimism, with water management receiving increased policy attention over the past few years. From 2014 onwards, the Indian government has taken key policy decisions like the consolidation of several river authorities into the central Ministry of Water Resources for basin-level governance, drafting of a model groundwater bill, renewed focus on innovative micro-irrigation under the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana and the partnership with Israel to leverage the country’s global leadership in water governance and knowledge.

Further, global events and examples have highlighted both the potential implications of water scarcity and the pathways to achieve water security. The worsening water crisis in Cape Town, with the city hovering dangerously close to ‘Day Zero’ has highlighted the risks and challenges that lie ahead for many Indian cities, including Bangalore. Therefore, the momentum around effective water management has been increasing and that the sector is being accorded a high priority in the national policy agenda.

The NITI Aayog has developed the CWMI to enable effective water management in the country. This Index is expected to establish a public, national platform providing information on key water indicators across states. The identification of high-performers and under-performers among the Indian states will expectedly inculcate a culture of constructive competition among them. Further, the data can also be used by researchers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers to enable broader ecosystem innovation for water in India.

Author :
Rituraj Phukan


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