Millennium Post

Drying up!

Drying up!

Do our water policies reflect the age we are living in? Perhaps a pertinent question in the contemporary age. While we are blessed with water bodies spread across the planet, human settlements and expansion have only led to water stress. It arouses the classical feeling that abundance has led to over-exploitation. Same is the case with fossil fuels. But as far as fossil fuels are concerned, we have consciously crafted a vision to shift to clean energy and rid Earth with the excessive combustion of fossil fuels that have contributed to global warming. Making slow strides in that direction, humankind requires urgent pace to prevent further warming of the atmosphere; we need to reduce emissions. But when it comes to water, we are yet to make plans having sustainability as the cornerstone. This is especially true for third world countries which require technology to propel them towards a sustainable future. In 2020, it is no surprise that judicious use of freshwater is imperative, more than ever. Countless reports have underlined a slew of difficulties that we may face with our current attitude towards water. The Chennai episode was one of the scariest yet the apt representation of what could be man-made countrywide adversity. We are pushing ourselves towards water scarcity. Our water tables have greatly reduced in number and the remaining ones have been reported as stressed with depleted levels. Our reservoirs are drying. Rivers have either become toxic sewers or a bleak self of their mighty past. Underground water table — our main source of water for the many urban settlements — is going deeper and deeper. If water reports by reputed organisations and institutions are to be considered, we are heading towards a major water crisis. India has been ranked as the 46th highest risk country in the world in the Water Stress Index 2019. Enjoying a great number of water bodies that have for centuries acted as a source of water, India's water stress arises more from our approach towards the same rather than the staggering population we possess relative to the world. It shouldn't have been a doubt that we will one day be water-stressed. Inclination towards the same was always there due to the population we have and the consequent needs that will arise. But the vastness of this land and the rich water table resisted anthropogenic exploitation through centuries. However, the 21st Century has rung the alarm bell. As per the Water Stress Index 2019, 11 of 20 largest Indian cities face an 'extreme risk' of water stress while 7 of them are in the 'high risk' category. Those reports told us that our urban settlements have arrived at a crucial stage in history when apprehensions of water scarcity are looming large, demanding intervention and sustainable practices. However, the latest survey by journal Water Policy tells us that it is not just these long-standing urban settlements but the entire Hindu-Kush Himalayan (HKH) region is water-stressed. The thirteen towns surveyed across India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh show a glaring deficit of 20-70 per cent in their water supply. Renowned across the world as the 'water towers of Asia', the demand-supply gap could double by 2050 as per current trends. There is a high dependence on springs — 50 per cent to 100 per cent — for water supply in three-fourths of the urban areas in the HKH region. The study highlights unplanned urbanisation and climate change as key factors for the decline. What is scarier to note from the survey is the fact that while currently a mere 3 and 8 per cent of the entire HKH region population resides in larger and smaller cities respectively, estimations cite a jump to 50 per cent of the population living in cities by 2050. This naturally cautions extreme stress on water tables that will be simply disastrous.

In fact, the journal Water Policy came out with a similar report last year, as did the NITI Aayog last. The latter's report last year had observed that acute water crisis in towns like Shimla was the direct result of drying up of springs. There are some 3 million springs in the Himalayan region of India out of the total 5 in the country and still, reports have noted rapid decline as these springs continue to dry up due to increasing demand for water, ecological degradation of the mountain areas and unsustainable land use. Facts and figures are surpluses for high-level intervention into the matter. We must act. Recharging water tables, preserving vast water pools and maintaining groundwater table levels is crucial. Springs must be fed more than they're mined. It is understood that tourism in the Himalayan region puts more stress on the water sources as demand rises exponentially. Yet, the Himalayan region experiences good rainfall which can help recharge the water table. We must put sustainable frameworks in place to equip the region to make the most of rains, used water as well as better practices for less wastage. There may be another report next year, besides countless more. The question is, when are we going to earnestly pay heed to the same?

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