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Is there enough water?

Despite receiving a very large amount of rainfall, Indians are forced to ask this question, especially each summer, as the water crisis deepens over rural and urban India alike. Over the coming few weeks we shall look at water availability across the major cities of India, looking at solutions on offer and bringing the the experiences to you.

india Updated: May 13, 2003 19:03 IST

"Water is used as a political tool, controlled and cornered by the rich, who do not pay the price for this scarce resource." says a report prepared jointly by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

And that is precisely why a country like India with one of the highest degree of precipitation in the world, has to ask whether there is enough water for her citizens.

Total potential water resources in India

1,086 km3

Current amount of water utilised in India

600 km3

Estimated amount required by 2050

1,100 km3

It is evident from the above figures, that even if every drop of water is utilized, there will be a shortfall in the future. The National Commission for Integrated Water Resources Development Plan (NCIWRDP - quite a mouthful!) estimates that India can avert a water crisis if a number of steps are taken to manage water adequately.

However that is a big IF. Currently India has about 690 km3 of usable surface water and 396 km3 of groundwater - the two sources of water available in India. More than half of which is already being harnessed to meet the current demands.

Per capita water availability in m3 annually

1951 - 5,177

2001 - 1,800

2025 - 1,351

2050 - 1,140

The international measuring standards - water stress index - defines a region as water stressed if the per capita water availability is below 1,700 m3 annually and water scarce if it is below 1,000 m3. By this measure, India should already be in the 'water stressed' category and moving towards 'water scarce'.

Causes of water scarcity: The UNICEF-WWF report, cites the following as the main causes of water scarcity in India:

* The system of 'water rights' under common law in India, which sees groundwater belonging to a landowner and not as a common resource;
* Uncontrolled use of borewell technology, allowing the groundwater balance to be adversely disturbed;
* Pollution of freshwater resources;
* Inadequate efforts directed at water conservation, inefficiency in water use, groundwater recharge and ecosystem sustainability;
* The denial of control over water resources to local communities.

Regional variations: The problem is acerbated by the vast regional variations in water availability across India. Parts of the northeastern region of the country get the highest amount of rainfall anywhere in the world, over 900 centimetres a year, while parts of the Thar desert or the Ladakh plateau get about 10 centimetres annually. And heavy rainfall does not necessarily translate into adequate water availability either. Cherrapunji is increasingly getting famous not just for getting the maximum rainfall in the world, but also for an acute shortage as most of the water flows off as rapidly as it falls.

First Published: May 09, 2003 17:58 IST