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Water crisis and the monsoon

News of a special train carrying approximately five lakh litres of water for the grievously parched Latur district in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, which is battling a severe drought, has caught the attention of the national media. On Tuesday morning, the first train filled with water reached Latur. After witnessing Marathwada’s drought crisis going from bad to worse, the State government finally acted and provided some relief. In the past, trains filled with water were used to provide relief for areas suffering from severe shortages. But these trains are mere quick-fixes and provide no long-term solution. To the relief of many, the Indian Meteorological Department has forecast an above normal monsoon across the country. But the monsoon season only begins in June and with rising temperatures predicted for April and May, things could get worse before any sort of relief arrives. In a kind, but misdirected gesture, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal offered to send 10 lakh litres of water every day for two months to Latur. With a scorching April and May to come, Kejriwal must realise that Delhi needs to prepare itself for a long summer. The city will need every drop of water. Meanwhile, the Delhi Jal Board is in the midst of formulating various plans for the summer to prevent a serious water crisis. One such plan includes the deployment of 950 water tankers to maintain a supply of 900 million gallons per day. What makes it even harder for the DJB and its government is that more than 200 new colonies have sprung up in the past year. The strain on Delhi’s already stretched piped network will only get worse this year. Under these circumstances, it is evident that Delhi will need every drop of the 260,000 gallons or 10 lakh litres of water.

Latur isn’t the only district to suffer from a dire shortage of water. Tikamgarh district is part of the Bundelkhand belt in Madhya Pradesh, which has been ravaged by drought and famine. Matters have come to a head and armed personnel are now guarding water taps and wells in many villages to prevent water-related riots or theft. In a short aside on Latur, district authorities were forced to invoke Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code to prevent violence over in the drought-hit zone. Under the collector’s order, not more than five people are allowed to gather near 20 water storage tanks until May 31 in order to prevent possible acts of violence. Coming back to the areas around Delhi, the latest figures from the Central Water Commission make for grim reading. According to CWC, six major reservoirs for Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan are running at approximately 25 percent capacity--six percent less than the average level for the season. Districts across Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka are scrapping the bottom of the barrel for water. What’s worse, citizens aren’t sure how to survive for the next two summer months. More often than not, the solutions employed by the State governments include a combination of tankers and private borewells to maintain the supply of water. But what these districts need is not quick-fixes like water tankers but long-term solutions that include fixing rural infrastructure for drinking water. But if the government seems unwilling to present any solutions besides quick-fixes, citizens, especially in the rural areas, may have to come up with their own solutions. According to a report in Scroll, farmers in Warangal are “digging water harvesting pits in their houses and fields, near borewells and handpumps in the hope that these structures shore up rain water” and prevent the depletion of groundwater.          

According to the CWC report, water levels at 91 major reservoirs nationwide stand at a mere 29 percent of total capacity. The data available goes on to detail that water levels at Indian reservoirs are 71 percent of last year or 74 percent of average storage over the last decade. According to an analysis by IndiaSpend, a data-drive news website, these 91 major reservoirs contain only 157.8 billion cubic metres (BCM) of water, even though it can hold 250 BCM. Moreover, a further 400 BCM water is available for irrigation in India through groundwater. But according to NASA, India’s water tables are dropping at the rate of 0.3 metres a year. 

Adding to the problem of scarcity, government agencies estimate that as much of 80 percent of India’s surface water is contaminated and most of it come from untreated sewage that our cities release. Governments, civil society, and the average citizen will have to play their part in resolving the crisis.
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