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Water Challenges Asia’s Rising Powers – Part II

India and China account for one third of the world’s population; each consumes more freshwater than other nations. Per inhabitant per year, though, India uses less than half what’s used in the US, China uses less than one third. This YaleGlobal series examines India and China’s water use, their expectations for rising demand and recognition that shortages will disrupt economic progress. The Planning Commission of India repeatedly warns that water will become a more serious issue than land or energy for India in years to come, points out Rohini Nilekani, in the second article of the series. India’s transition from an economy based on agriculture to a mixed one, with water use controlled by states rather than the federal constitution, already leads to conflicts. She urges planning for a low-water economy: Good governance and regulatory frameworks can prevent pollution and waste, while encouraging efficiency, reliable and fair allocation, and wise consumer choices. – YaleGlobal

Water Challenges Asia’s Rising Powers – Part II

India must prepare for future growth by planning a low-water economy
Rohini Nilekani
YaleGlobal, 14 July 2011
Thirsty earth: Indian villagers in Gujarat gather to draw water from a well

BANGALORE: By July this year, the monsoon has established itself vigorously over much of the subcontinent. The anxieties of the long, intense summer months, when nations hold their collective breath in anticipation of the cooling, life-giving rain, have receded. But the region’s1.6 billion people know that next summer, the worres will return.

Water is ultimately a finite resource. With all finite resources, there is a continuous need for sustainable and equitable management, by capping demand, improving efficiencies in supply and developing substitutes. This exercise is complicated by the sociocultural beliefs, values and affinities around this precious resource.

Currently, Indian politics is dominated by controversies over natural-resource management, particularly land acquisition. Although economic liberalization is more than two decades old, there’s little clarity or consensus on the governance and regulatory frameworks for the inevitable land transfers needed for the transition from a primarily domestic and agricultural economy to a mixed and globalized one.

Widespread and perennial conflicts
over land in India are
a curtain raiser to the coming conflicts over water.

Widespread and perennial conflicts over land are a curtain raiser to the coming conflicts over water, a sector that faces a similar lack of legal and policy consensus. Already, in the southern state of Kerala, a community has sued the Coca-Cola Company for depleting its aquifers. At the Sheonath River in the northern state of Chhatisgarh, there has been sustained protest against the privatization of a stretch of river through a Radius Water contract. Rural and urban communities battle over diversion of agricultural water for urban water supply, not to mention mega-conflicts among states over sharing river waters.

The Planning Commission of India has repeatedly warned that water will become a more serious issue than land or energy for India in the years to come. Preparing for India’s 12th Five Year Plan, the commission has taken up a wide consultation to better govern water resources. But consensus and implementation remain huge challenges, especially since water is a state and not a federal subject under its Constitution.

Groundwater Withdrawal By States: Bar shows groundwater withdrawals as a percentage of groundwater recharge.
Map: NASA/Matt Rodell. Enchancement: Debbie Campoli/YaleGlobal. Enlarge Image

Meanwhile, India may have to ready itself for perennial freshwater shortages. The country is among the wettest in the world, with an average annual rainfall of 1170 milimeters and total water resources of around 4000 billion cubic meters per year. Of this total, a little more than a quarter is pegged as usable. With India’s high rate of population growth and intensifying water consumption, per capita availability of water, one of many indicators of an oncoming crisis, has declined steadily over the years. Thanks to indiscriminate withdrawal from rivers and underground aquifers, without adequate thought to  recharge and regeneration, India could become an officially water-stressed country within this decade, dipping below the common indicator of 1700 cubic meters per person per year. Going beyond a merely human-centric position, it’s critical to understand that water is a key element of nature in its own right.

Over-extraction and abuse of water has had a devastating impact on the environment. Ocean health is deteriorating, badly polluted water bodies can no longer support aquatic life, some rivers no longer reach the sea, and so on. Such setbacks have many implications. Water is a defining factor of the ecological base on which the economy rests. To protect both the ecology and the economy, India needs a national strategy to place water at the heart of development planning and implementation.

Just as countries talk of a low carbon economy to reduce fossil fuel dependency and reduce the threats of climate change, India must create a low-water economy to secure its future and fulfill responsibility to future generations.

With India’s high rate of population growth, per capita availability
of water has declined steadily over the years.

A low-water economy should rest on the principle that water be left in its natural state in the environment as much as possible. Every drop extracted must be justified. Every drop used must be recycled and reused whenever possible.

Accepting this principle poses many challenges for the three major sectors of water use – agriculture, industry and domestic. Each sector offers creative possibilities to help redefine society’s troubled relationship with the natural world alongside the pursuit of economic sustainability.

In agriculture, which currently accounts for more than 80 percent of the water demand, there are several ways to produce more crops per drop and generally reduce the water footprint. These ideas are not new, but bear repetition as they require a deeper commitment through policy, financing and knowledge generation. Keeping farmer interests at the core, India must sever the link between cheap power and water wastage on farmland; incentivize water-saving technologies on the farm; and rationalize production, procurement and export of crops. Some studies have shown that water currently moves from water-scarce regions to water-rich regions through the virtual water embedded in products such as milk, silk and cotton. This provides an opportunity to rethink virtual water trade to reverse inequitable trends. Agro-businesses have economic incentives to increase water efficiency throughout their supply chain, and government policy must pursue compliance.

Consumers, too, can make intelligent choices to support low-water agriculture. They can select among an array of healthy millets and other food crops grown with little water and remarkably drought-resistant. Awareness could snowball with strong policy support and leadership.

Without initiatives, water will become the constraining factor in India’s quest for inclusive and sustainable growth.

Industry has a crucial role as a partner in a low-water economy. Industry’s water needs should come from current agricultural sources. The energy sector, a major water guzzler, must set clear goals for reducing its water footprint. Other industrial players can no longer pollute freshwater bodies with impunity. Incentives must be aligned, making it more difficult to pollute or draw water away from environmental, lifeline and livelihood needs. The popular movement to protect India’s rivers can be fuelled by the vision of a low-water economy.

The rural domestic sector has little room for cutbacks. The government’s own norms suggest about 55 liters per capita in use per day, and people need at least 50 liters a day for drinking, cooking and bathing. If anything, all homes should have piped water supply and sanitation, which could improve public-health indicators and reduce infant mortality.

In urban areas, the scope for rethink is huge. Cities mismanage water resources and supply systems with little equity, reliability or adequacy of supply. In Delhi, per capita availability can vary from 36 to 400 liters per day. Notwithstanding the mighty Yamuna flowing in its backyard, the capital incurs a huge unrecoverable cost of production for additional water sourced from hundreds of kilometers away. Little is done to treat wastewater for reuse. Nor does Delhi penalize water-consuming elites as others struggle for basic lifeline rights.

If the national capital leads in irresponsible water management, others will follow suit. When 300 million more Indians pour into 5000 cities and towns in the next three decades, municipalities will have to redesign water services. They must adopt an integrated approach to urban water from source to sink, using local water before making demands on external water, ensuring a pro-poor policy, taking a decentralized approach, encouraging use of recycled wastewater for non-potable needs and so on. Bangalore has led in some areas, including the introduction of a pro-poor policy to ensure that no one is denied access to basic water, together with volumetric tariffs and a surcharge on private bore wells. The next set of challenges is to optimize rainwater, regenerate lakes and reuse wastewater to reduce dependence on external sources.

If initiatives are not pushed forward, water will become the constraining factor in the quest for inclusive and sustainable growth. Luckily, water, though finite, is infinitely renewable. India must now renew its ancient wisdom to grow economically while reducing its water use footprint.

 

Rohini Nilekani is chairperson of Arghyam, a charitable foundation in India that supports safe, sustainable water for all.

Rights:Copyright © 2011 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization

Comments on this Article

24 July 2011
I agree with you Bernard.
There is infamous plan for INTERLINKING OF RIVERS First mooted by Late Dr.K.L.Rao an outstanding Engineer and Irrigation Expert and later by.Captain Dinshaw J Dastur.
1972- ‘Ganga Cauvery link proposed by Union minister Dr. K.L. Rao.
1974- ‘Garland Canal’ proposal by Captain Dinshaw J Dastur, a pilot.
Both plans rejected due to technical infeasibility and huge costs.
Later the Government of India has drawn a plan.
INTERLINKING OF RIVERS
ILR is Government of India’s proposal to link 37 rivers through 30 links, dozens of large dams and thousands of miles of canals, making it the largest water project in the world. It aims to transfer water from water surplus to water-deficit areas and thus proposes to provide a permanent solution to the ‘paradox of floods and drought’. Of the 30 links proposed, 14 are in the Himalayan and 16 in the Peninsular component.
Claimed Benefits
Besides the vision of grandeur and the “solution” to floods and droughts, the project has certain specific stated claims :
0 Irrigation of 34 million hectares of land
0 Potable water for rural & urban areas and industrial water-supply
0 34,000 MW power generation through hydroelectric generators.
0 Inland navigation through the network of rivers.
0 Ecological upgradation and increased tree farming
0 Sizeable employment generation
0 National integration
I will be happy this plan will be completed in my life time.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com
-Dr.Anumakonda , Nellore(AP),India
20 July 2011
1. If Water is a state subject, then Inter-State Rivers and River Valley is Union subject. Why Rohini Nilekini does not know about Entry-56 and Entry-17 of Constitution of India? Then what prevents Union in India to act decisively with all issues pertaining to water in accordance with Entry-56?
2. India, the wettest place is going by the average annual rainfall which is misleading. Not every place in India is wet. Not the Gujurat, Rajasthan or even North Karnataka where the rainfall ranges from 50mm to 200mm. The wettest part is the North Eastern India however by opposing any inter-basin transfer of water, there is no way one can claim India is the wettest place based on average annual rainfall which is misleading readers.
3. The author is writing the article keeping several parameters and factors constant. For example: Indian State itself is moving towards of being a "failed state". Large swathes of territory of India (about one-third) is not under the control of Government of India due to Maoist insurgency besides other insurgency in North-East and J&K. Without any control, all the talk of water management is just an illusion. The effective water management is strongly linked how other Ministries perform with respect to each other and particularly Ministry of Home Affairs of Govt of India!
4. The Indian State is now moving towards "Oligarchy". With corporate, rich and influential making elections and Parliament their personal fiefdom, corruption, nepotism and hooliganism is rampant in India. The Government is lesser and lesser democratic with no transparency in governance (despite RTI) which is vital in any concept of multi-stakeholder participation of water management. The bureaucrats/technocrats have no choice but to subservient to the CCS (Conduct) Rules which perpetrates Master-Slave relationship thus seriously limiting any scope for successful water management across multiple disciplines across multiple stakeholders of water sector. With no man-power in Central Water Engineering Service - the only water management services of Government of India (like IAS, IPS, etc) it is hard to believe how a successful water management can be done in accordance with Rohini Nilekini.
5. Bangalore itself is facing serious drinking water shortages to the tune of 500 MLD as per BWSSB in 2011. The BWSSB is augmenting water from the distant Cauvery river from about 100-200 km through various stages like Stage-I,II,III, IV etc....and it is not unclear for how long this augmentation keep growing? But the biggest contributor for this water crisis in Bangalore is the corporates themselves which Rohini Nilekini is also part of in the form of the company she is associated with. The increase of jobs due to IT/BT sector in Bangalore has contributed to over 40% increase in population since year 2001 as per provisional census 2011 estimates. What was Rohini Nilekini and other industrialists were doing for water sector of Bangalore when such a huge demand was being grown!
6. Last but not least, it is a request to YaleGlobal to ascertain the expertise of the author who writes on water management of India. Today, water has been a topic of expertise from anybody ranging from a doctor to architect to ordinary journalist to CEO of a company. Can Rohini Nilekini write something on the topic of "stem cell research" or "heart by-pass surgery" with same authority as being written over water?
J.Harsha
-J.Harsha , Berhampore, West Bengal
16 July 2011
Being a citizen of India and having grown up in New Delhi, I couldnt have agreed less with Bernard. Its high time India started using precious water carefully. Also projects such as river interlinking are going to kill the natural system.
-Rukmini Banerjee , NOIDA
16 July 2011
Excellent aricle by Rohini Nilekani.
Yes. Future water situation in India needs attention to overcome the shortage. Water and Energy are the prime needs of any economy.
Here is an interesting analysis on future of water situation in India.
Imminent Water Crisis in India
Nina Brooks, August 2007, The Arlington Institute:
“India is facing a looming water crisis that has implications not only for its 1.1 billion people, but for the entire globe. India’s demand for water is growing even as it stretches its supplies. Water infrastructure is crumbling, preventing the government from being able to supply drinking water to its citizens. Pollution is rampant due to unfettered economic growth, poor waste management laws and practices. Although many analysts believe that demand will outstrip supply by 2020, there is still hope for India. Water scarcity in India is predominantly a manmade problem; therefore if India makes significant changes in the way it thinks about water and manages its resources soon, it could ward off, or at least mollify, the impending crisis. India has had success with water infrastructure development, which allowed the country to take advantage of its water resources in the first place and achieve food security. These projects did enable the expansion of urban and industrial sectors and increased availability of safe drinking water, but then they were allowed to dilapidate. India needs to make water supply a national priority the way it has made food security and economic growth priorities in the past. India’s need for a comprehensive management program is so severe because of its rapidly depleting water supply, environmental problems, and growing population. If the country continues with a business as usual mentality the consequences will be drastic. India will see a sharp decrease in agricultural production, which will negate all of the previous efforts at food security. India will become a net importer of grain, which will have a huge effect of global food prices, as well as the global supply of food. A rise in food prices will aggravate the already widespread poverty when people have to spend larger portions of their income on food. In addition to devastating the agricultural sector of India’s economy, the water crisis will have a big effect on India’s industrial sector, possibly stagnating many industries. Finally, India could become the stage for major international water wars because so many rivers that originate in India supply water to other countries. India has the power to avoid this dark future if people take action immediately: start conserving water, begin to harvest rainwater, treat human, agricultural, and industrial waste effectively, and regulate how much water can be drawn out of the ground”.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com
-Dr.Anumakonda J , Nellore(AP)
16 July 2011
Excellent aricle by Rohini Nilekani.
Yes. Fuure water situation in India needs attention o overcome he shorage. Waer and Energy are he prime needs of any economy.
Here is an interesting anslysis on fuure waer situation in India.
Imminent Water Crisis in India
Nina Brooks, August 2007, The Arlington Institute:
“India is facing a looming water crisis that has implications not only for its 1.1 billion people, but for the entire globe. India’s demand for water is growing even as it stretches its supplies. Water infrastructure is crumbling, preventing the government from being able to supply drinking water to its citizens. Pollution is rampant due to unfettered economic growth, poor waste management laws and practices. Although many analysts believe that demand will outstrip supply by 2020, there is still hope for India. Water scarcity in India is predominantly a manmade problem; therefore if India makes significant changes in the way it thinks about water and manages its resources soon, it could ward off, or at least mollify, the impending crisis. India has had success with water infrastructure development, which allowed the country to take advantage of its water resources in the first place and achieve food security. These projects did enable the expansion of urban and industrial sectors and increased availability of safe drinking water, but then they were allowed to dilapidate. India needs to make water supply a national priority the way it has made food security and economic growth priorities in the past. India’s need for a comprehensive management program is so severe because of its rapidly depleting water supply, environmental problems, and growing population. If the country continues with a business as usual mentality the consequences will be drastic. India will see a sharp decrease in agricultural production, which will negate all of the previous efforts at food security. India will become a net importer of grain, which will have a huge effect of global food prices, as well as the global supply of food. A rise in food prices will aggravate the already widespread poverty when people have to spend larger portions of their income on food. In addition to devastating the agricultural sector of India’s economy, the water crisis will have a big effect on India’s industrial sector, possibly stagnating many industries. Finally, India could become the stage for major international water wars because so many rivers that originate in India supply water to other countries. India has the power to avoid this dark future if people take action immediately: start conserving water, begin to harvest rainwater, treat human, agricultural, and industrial waste effectively, and regulate how much water can be drawn out of the ground”.
Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore (AP), India
E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com
-Dr.Anumakonda J , Nellore(AP),India
15 July 2011
What water crisis? What crisis? You are obviously not paying attention to headlines of India's economic growth. India is the world's greatest democracy and its greatest super duper power. Water will come naturally to India's democracy with every Monsoon drop.
Here in Mumbai, there in Delhi, and there again in Pune.
India's Tata has been lording over the world industries by purchasing such Western properties as LRJ and Corus, and making these former money pits a big success. Our Mittal has been overwhelming the world's steel makers by swallowing up Arcelor. Our mobile phones have been out-talking all other countries by growing 100 million users every quarter. Our architects had designed and finished the world's largest airport in Delhi in Terminal 2. Our engineers have built the world's greatest hydro dam in the Three Gorges. Our road builders had just completed the world's longest bridge in Mumbai. Our prime minister has been presiding over these big international meetings by sounding our voices over all these heads of all your minor states. Our super aircraft carriers have been patrolling the world's oceans and scaring all the Ethiopia and Somalian pirates off their pants.
For all these a million reasons how can you compare India to a midget river town like Guangdong.
Submit to your fate under our Hindu colossus, beg our 5-rupee meal middle classes, bow to our super powers.
Jai Hind!
-FriendsofIndia , FriendsofIndia, Mumbai
14 July 2011
When the monsoons come India should develop the technology that not one drop of that precious fresh water go to the ocean without first serving India's rapid needs. More reservoirs need to be built to catch as much water. In the cities, town to villages, water catchment equipments should be built to fill every catchment in the nation. channel rain water to underground reservoirs, and build desalination plants run on green energy. India is not only blessed with two monsoons but a number of large to medium sized rivers where most of the water goes to the ocean unused.
If India is really serious in solving the water problems just take a page from Israel who turned a desert into fertile lands, using the minimum amount of water to do so.
-Bernard , USA