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NITI Ayog and WaterAid, amongst others, have found that over 70% of India’s surface and groundwater is contaminated by human and other waste and is likely to carry viruses.


GS-III: Environment and Ecology (Water Resources and their Conservation, Environmental Pollution & Degradation)

Mains Questions:

How has the water crisis in India worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What are the measures taken to deal with India’s water crisis? (10 Marks)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. India’s water-woes
  2. Spread of virus through Wastewater
  3. Concern in India regarding uncontrolled Wastewater discharge
  4. Freshwater Sources
  5. Recent measures taken by the Government to address water crisis

India’s water-woes

  • According to the data provided by the Ministry of Water Resources (now Ministry of Jal Shakti) in 2017, average annual per capita water availability fell from more than 1800 cubic meters assessed in 2001 to just over 1500 cubic meters in 2011.
  • The data also highlighted the possibility of average annual water availability per person reducing further to 1341 and 1140 in the years 2025 and 2050 respectively.
  • The water availability of water stressed/water scarce regions of the country is much below the national average due to the high temporal and spatial variation of precipitation.
  • According to the Global Annual Report, 2018 by the WaterAid, the water and sanitation advocacy group, India ranked at the top of 10 countries with lowest access to clean water close to home, with more than 16 crore people not having such access.
  • According to a UNICEF Report in 2021, India has 4% of the world’s freshwater which has to cater to 17% of the world’s population.
  • The UNICEF report of 2021 says that nearly 40% of the population in India will have absolutely no access to drinking water by 2030 and 6% of India’s GDP will be lost by 2050 due to the water crisis.

Spread of virus through Wastewater

  • Indiscriminate human activity is often the reason for environmental degradation and pandemics. The practice of keeping animals locked together for mass production of meat produces an artificial environment that can birth mutations in erstwhile dormant viruses.
  • Once the virus has found its way into the human population, it is bound to proliferate in wastewater.
  • Several wastewater samples were tested and were found to carry traces of SARS-CoV-2 in various countries, and research indicates that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can spread through sewage water.

But such wastewater is often discharged into water bodies in India.

Concern in India regarding uncontrolled Wastewater discharge

  • Discharge of untreated wastewater is an alarming prospect for India, as river water or lake water, which carries human waste, sewage, and toxic waste, can be a very generous host for viruses.
  • Some water-transmitted viral pathogens are astrovirus, hepatitis A and norovirus.
  • Unlike in the developed world, a huge section of the population in India uses polluted water from sources like rivers, lakes, or groundwater for drinking.

Freshwater Sources in India

  • There are only two unpolluted fresh water sources left in the country. The first is the water lying below our forests; the second is the aquifers that lie below the floodplains of rivers.
  • Both these sources provide natural underground storage and are renewable – the rains provide natural recharge year after year and it is this recharge which can be used to water our cities and towns.
  • The aquifers underlying forests can provide healthy mineral water purely for drinking purposes. The river floodplains are a great source of water for cities.

Recent measures taken by the Government to address water crisis

Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM) [Urban and Rural]:

  • In the Budget 2021-22, Jal Jeevan Mission (Urban) has been announced under the Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry to provide universal coverage of water supply to all households through functional taps in all statutory towns in accordance with Sustainable Development Goal- 6.
  • It complements the Jal Jeevan Mission (Rural) which envisages supply of 55 litres of water per person per day to every rural household through Functional Household Tap Connections (FHTC) by 2024.

Jal Shakti Abhiyan:

  • Under the National Jal Shakti Abhiyan, Centre has decided to utilize the upcoming monsoon season to expand its water conservation efforts.
  • Ministry of Home Affairs, as per the Centre, has allowed to take up MGNREGA works/drinking water and sanitation works at the time of lockdown with priority to be given to water conservation and irrigation works. Jal Shakti Abhiyan was launched in 2019 and it covered 256 water stressed districts across the country.
  • Rejuvenation of the traditional water bodies, desilting of ponds and lakes, Catchment area treatment etc., are the various activities under this initiative.

MGNREGA for water conservation

  • Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), one of the biggest government-funded employment schemes in the world, has enabled the government to introduce water conservation as a project under the Act with the help of the huge workforce employed under the MGNREGA.
  • The government aims to improve groundwater harvesting and build water conservation and storage mechanisms through MGNREGA.

National Water Mission

  • The Government of India has launched the National Water Mission with the objective of conservation of water, minimizing wastage and ensuring more equitable distribution both across and within states through integrated water resources development and management.
  • One of the objectives of the Mission is to increase the water use efficiency by 20%.

NITI Aayog Composite Water Management Index

  • With the objective of achieving effective utilization of water, NITI Aayog has developed the Composite Water Management Index.
  • The index revolves around issues ranging from water scarcity and related issues like deaths due to lack of access to safe water, its projected increase in demand over the years and finding ways for its effective conservation.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023