Rahul, maine kahaa thaa naa?.... Paanichalaajaaegaa!!
I grew up in the ’90s and vividly remember this ad – although I have forgotten the brand: a kid playing music and dancing around in the shower with the slightest bother about water wastage and when water runs out, looks at the shower that is now just trickling a few drops - with sadness and disappointment on his face. In 2020 this is all too real - if you are in Bangalore, you probably faced this couple of times already. We are all staring at empty showers and taps and what will remain will be only sadness and disappointment for our future generations – if we don’t fix this fast.
The Composite Water Management Index report, published by NITI Aayog in June 2018, mentions that India is undergoing the worst water crisis in its history and nearly 600 million people are facing high to extreme water stress. The report further mentions that India is placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index, with nearly 70% of water being contaminated. By 2020, 21 major cities of India will run out of water and face ‘day zero’, it said —entire cities running out of water! Let that sink in for a moment.
We have about 17% of the world’s population, only 4% of the world’s freshwater, and 70% of it is contaminated. Availability was always a problem, quality for us became secondary. We are OK with any quality because that is how important water is. Is there a way out?
How Did We Get Here?
It is probably not because of Rahul, though Rahul does make it worse. We can’t think of solutions without looking back and seeing how we got here. What are we doing wrong?
4% of the world’s water for 17% of the people is skewed and sounds terrible, but it is still A LOT of water. We probably can manage very well with that.
According to World Bank reports, agriculture accounts for 70% of all water withdrawals globally. In India, this is upwards of 80% and a lot of that water is not managed properly, resulting in wastage – as high as 60% for some crops. Now, irrigated land is more than twice as productive as rain-fed cropland, so we can’t ask farmers to stop taking water.
But we can make the process more efficient and reduce wastage and we can get farmers to try for more water-efficient crops, especially in water-stressed areas. But the math is simple – if we can reduce 20% consumption in agriculture, we double the water available for all other uses combined!
Unsurprisingly, India is the largest drawer of ground-water in the world. Our over-reliance on groundwater irrigation purposes is a huge reason for our current dilemma. That’s because it is easy - just dig wells and draw water - next year, dig deeper. As you read this - you will realize how unsustainable and how absurd it is. But it is easy - so we have been doing it for decades. When we draw faster than these wells can re-charge - they dry up.
But we will not stop drawing groundwater unless we have better, easier options. This means investing in irrigation networks, adopting newer & better recycling technologies and closely monitoring water supply, demand and wastage. To start, we must move to crops that use less water in water-stressed areas for sure and enable