India’s water crisis is expected to get a lot worse.
Water demand, driven by an increasing domestic need for rice, wheat and sugar, with more and more people adopting a middle-class diet, will be the highest in the world in 20 years, says a new global report. Supply, on the other hand, will be half of that demand.
Demand will double by 2030, rom 700 billion cubic metres to 1,498 billion cubic metres, according to the study by the Water Resources Group, released on Monday. The biggest deficits will be in the most populous river basins — Ganga, Krishna and Indus.
The demand is nearly double of China’s projected 818 billion cubic meters demand.
The majority of that water, 80 per cent, will go to agriculture, as farmers plant more rice, wheat and sugar to feed India’s growing population, says the study, by experts from across industries and institutions.
This shortfall can be prevented, the report says, by adopting basic conservation measures, especially in agriculture. Drip irrigation, where a pipe and valve deliver water directly to the plant roots rather than over a field; and no-till farming (without using ploughs) could conserve enough water to meet our entire future demand.
“Our agriculture is relatively inefficient, especially our water use,” said P.K. Aggarwal, professor at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute. “Conservation technology exists, but it hasn't been adopted.”
India wastes 40 per cent of the water it uses, said Central Water Commission chairman A.K. Bajaj.
“The biggest challenges are awareness and cost,” he said.
The study estimates it would cost $6 billion (Rs 27,900 crore) to implement enough water conservation strategies to meet the projected demand. The potential payoff is huge too. Agricultural income could increase by $83 billion (Rs 3,85,950 crore) by 2030.
But that is “if the full potential of agricultural measures is mobilised,” the report says.
“We can't continue with business as usual,” added Bajaj.
According to Aggarwal, the government should provide farmers with seed money and insure them against risk. “We need capital support so farmers can afford these new technologies.”
Some conservation steps are already afoot. In 2008, the government created the National Water Mission, which aims for 20 per cent conservation in water use over the next several years. In Maharashtra and Gujarat, the government has instituted awareness programmes on better water use strategies for farmers.