India draws a third of its water from aquifers. However, these aquifers are depleting at a rapid rate. “Most of the world’s water systems that keep the ecosystems thriving and feed a growing human population are under severe stress.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in its report, Global Wetland Outlook: State of World’s Wetlands and their Services to People (2018), makes an alarming observation that up to 87 per cent of the global wetland resource has been lost since 1700. The analysis of satellite data of NASA underlines that half of the earth’s 37 largest aquifers are running too fast to be replenished and an additional 13 are declining at a faster rate… The United Nations in its World Water Development Report 2018 has highlighted that the global water use has increased by a factor of six over the past 100 years and continues to grow at a rate of one per cent per year. Competitive demand for water from various sectors has resulted in water scarcity that is affecting almost every part of the world.

The World Bank in its latest report has underlined that the Ganga River Basin could see drinking water shortage go up by as much as 39 per cent in some States by 2040. A recent study (2016) from the University of Twente, Netherlands, warns that two-third of the global population lives with severe water scarcity for at least one month every year and nearly half of those people live in India and China.”
With specific reference to India, the situation is more serious than many of us imagine it to be. In fact, 30 years hence India could become an importer of water: “The water crisis in India is more dire than imagined. The annual per capita availability of water continues to decline sharply from about 5,177 cubic metres in 1951 to about 1,720 cubic metres in 2019. The NITI Aayog in its report on Composite Water Management Index (2018) has underlined that currently 600 million people face high to extreme water stress, about two lakh die every year due to inadequate access to safe water, about three-fourths of the household do not get drinking water at their premise and about 70 per cent of water is contaminated.

The rate of groundwater extraction is so severe that NASA’s findings suggest that India’s water table is declining alarmingly at a rate of about 0.3 metres per year. At this rate of depletion, India will have only 22 per cent of the present daily per capita water available in 2050, possibly forcing the country to import water.”
So what is the way forward? What remedies do we have on hand? “The World Bank, in its report India’s Water Economy: Bracing for a Turbulent Future (2006), had outlined that dams in India have the capacity to store only about 30 days of rainfall, compared with 900 days in major river basins in arid areas of developed countries. Hence, more efforts need to be taken to develop water infrastructure in a decentralised manner by shifting the focus to cost-effective methods.

Small water bodies (mainly tanks) are less capital-intensive, user-friendly with fewer environmental problems and augment groundwater resources through sub-surface recharge.

However, most small water bodies have been encroached and subject to centuries of neglect and mismanagement. The Standing Committee on Water Resources on “Repair, Renovation and Restoration of Water Bodies” highlighted in its 16th report that out of 5.56 lakh tanks in the country, only 4.71 lakh tanks are in use.”


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