Around 600 million people are already facing a severe water shortage(HT)
Around 600 million people are already facing a severe water shortage(HT)

India’s water crisis: All stakeholders must come together

While CSR activities have been geared towards water conservation, corporations must make it a top priority
By Amitabh Kant
PUBLISHED ON AUG 28, 2019 06:30 PM IST

Water and its management will determine India’s ability to achieve high economic growth, ensure environmental sustainability, and improve the quality of life. India is home to 17% of world’s population, but has only 4% of the world’s fresh water resources. At present, 75% of Indian households do not have access to drinking water, and close to 90% of rural households have no access to piped water. India is a water-stressed country, and with 1,544 cubic metre per capita annual availability, we are advancing towards becoming water-scarce. Five of the world’s 20 largest cities under water stress are in India.

As per the Economic Survey 2018-19, by 2050, India will be extremely susceptible to water insecurity. There are some other aspects that pertain to the economic cost of environmental degradation that India is faced with. A 2018 World Bank study pegged the cost of environmental degradation to India at approximately $80 billion per year, which amounts to around 5.7% of our GDP. Further, an environment survey of 178 countries ranked India at 155. This is extremely worrying, especially since among the BRIC nations, India ranked last.

Community management of water will be crucial if India is to become water secure. From State-led initiatives to local community driven initiatives, work on community engagement has begun. State-led efforts to manage water have been assessed and shared by the NITI Aayog, which has developed the composite water management index (CWMI). States are ranked on the management of water and progress in 28 indicators relating to water management.

But given the magnitude of the challenge and the contribution of the corporate sector in driving innovation, there is a growing role for leading enterprises to help meet development targets. In water management, corporations must play a more active role in using their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts towards innovation and conservation of water, along with the dissemination of proven practices that help conserve and harness water recharge. For corporations, the community focus is often manifest in the sustainable efforts undertaken by their owners. The question remains as to whether CSR commitment and sustainability initiatives in the current scenario are effective and pervasive enough to make a substantial impact.

India has access to only 4% of the world’s usable water sources. If not addressed, water scarcity is also likely to affect the GDP, accounting for almost a 6% loss by 2050. Around 600 million people are already facing a severe water shortage, according to reports.

There are flag bearers for conservation efforts among Indian and multinational corporations, and their efforts must be emulated across the board. ITC’s integrated water management approach is one which immediately comes to mind. It is now extended to implement four large-scale river basin regeneration projects for achieving water balance and year-round environmental flows in select sub-basins in Maharastra, Tamil Nadu, Telangana and Madhya Pradesh to strengthen water security-- one of the most important priorities for India. Today, ITC’s integrated watershed development programme covers over one million acres spread across 15,000 water harvesting structures, benefiting over 300,000 people in 43 districts across 16 states. This initiative has generated over six million person-days of employment within project villages, reducing levels of distress migration. In addition, a pilot programme at scale on “water use efficiency in agriculture” is also being promoted to enable effective demand-side management. This initiative has yielded water savings of 20% to 45% in crops like sugarcane, wheat, rice and banana.

Tata’s Water Mission aims to provide better access to pure water for six million people spread across 7,000 villages in 12 states, by 2020. Key focus areas are to improve access to safe water and sanitation, and to make a difference through rigorous and technologically advanced interventions.

Under its 2025 sustainability agenda, Pepsico is said to aim for a global improvement in water use efficiency in high water risk areas of its direct agricultural supply chain by 15% by 2025. Mahindra too is doing extensive work under its Mahindra Hariyali programme. As its climate change resistance movement, the initiative is a social upsurge where tree planting is not merely a duty, but, in fact, is termed a celebration. Since 2007, this initiative has achieved a target of planting 16 million saplings. Even in water conservation efforts, the Mahindra group has managed to reduce water consumption requirements per vehicle produced by 64% since 2012.

It’s not as if CSR activities are not geared towards water conservation and management. Almost every corporation does work on water management. But now they need to make it a top priority rather than one of the many avenues where CSR initiatives are undertaken. Water is a critical resource and community water management is a must. This will range from corporate engagement to smaller scale community initiatives, to individual efforts. Now, the entire ecosystem must work in a cooperative manner to ensure India’s water conservation efforts are forward-thinking, and leveraging synergies from the State, corporations, and the community as a whole. This is everyone’s fight and one we must win. The work starts now.

Amitabh Kant is CEO, NITI Aayog

The views expressed are personal

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