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High risk of poor water quality in India’s river basins by 2050: UNESCO report

The already stressed ground water resources will face even greater pressure in north India.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2018 07:31 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Water quality,Water pollution,India water crissi
Women head towards a water hole atop a hill in Rajsamand district, Rajasthan.(Himanshu Vyas/HT File Photo)

A new report released by UNESCO ahead of World Water Day on March 22 shows that the water crisis will be intensifying across India by 2050. Central India is staring at deepening water scarcity that means withdrawal of 40% of the renewable surface water resources.

The already stressed ground water resources will face even greater pressure in north India. SK Sarkar, who heads the water resources division at policy think-tank TERI, said that groundwater depletion was extremely severe in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi. “Ground water depletion carries with it the risk of salinity,” he said.

South and central India will experience high levels of risk from poor water quality in its river basins by 2050. The report relies on a study done by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis for its estimations in future scenarios.

Contamination is not only a problem with surface water resources but also groundwater, according to SWA Naqvi, a scientist at the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) and NIO director, “There is metallic contamination but also contamination from improper disposal of human excreta,” he said.

There is growing evidence to show that because of dumping of faecal matter in the ground -- either because of open defecation or soak-pits toilets with improper disposal of faecal matter -- leads to contamination of groundwater aquifers with E-coli bacteria, according to experts.

The UNESCO report said that over 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water but almost twice that number of people do not have access to safe sanitation. The demand for water is expected to increase by almost one-third by 2050 compared to 2010 levels.

China, India, United States, Russia and Pakistan are the largest consumers of water at present and they will continue to be top water guzzlers in 2050.

The report attributed the water scarcity to population growth and climate change, which were not just fuelling water scarcity but also flooding in areas that are not historically flood-prone. According to the report ,the number of people exposed to flood risk surged from 1.2 billion to day to 1.6 billion in 2050, and assets valued at US $45 trillion will also be at risk.

The report recommends nature-based solution that mimic nature, citing the example of small-scale water harvesting structure in Rajasthan that quenched the water demand of 1,000 villages.

Another example of this is the underground taming of floods for irrigation (UTFI) project, that is being piloted in Ganga river basin. UTFI is a way of managing both flooding and drought because the method entails channelizing excess flow during the wet season for the recharge of aquifers, thus curbing flooding downstream. A greater recharge of groundwater helps to meet needs during a dry spell.

First Published: Mar 19, 2018 23:26 IST