Moving towards better water management and conservation in India

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The recent institutional step of forming a single ministry focused on water security, the Jal Shakti Mantralaya, is focused on giving top priority to the subject of water. The erstwhile Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation and Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation have been subsumed under the new body. The goal of this integrated ministry is to provide safe and adequate piped water for all households.

After the NITI Aayog came up with the integrated water management index and ranking of states, the constitution of the Jal Shakti Mantralaya has been the first concrete and holistic step taken by the central government. Earlier, there were seven ministries and more than ten departments that were working in silos, having a say on different matters of water management and its use. So, there were overlapping roles and responsibilities and no single body had ultimate authority.

The Incipient Water Crisis in India

It is estimated that the demand for water will exceed its supply by a factor of two by the year 2030. Moreover, NITI Aayog estimates that major cities like New Delhi, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru will completely run out of groundwater in a few years. With a significant percentage of the Indian population having limited or no access to drinking water, the potential economic loss will be 6% of GDP by 2050.

There are losses due to poor infrastructure as well. Due to the lack of proper maintenance of existing infrastructure, urban areas lose almost 40% of piped water. Therefore, there is a need to improve service delivery that is also centered around conservation, source sustainability, and wherever possible, the storage and reuse of water.

India’s human loss due to unclean water is even more staggering. According to the WHO, there are about 200,000 unsafe water deaths in India annually.

International Examples of Efficient Water Management

Israel, a Middle Eastern country that faces severe water shortages, treats 100% of its used water and recycles 94% of it. In this way, Israel is able to meet more than half of its irrigation needs through reused water. In the Indian context, micro-irrigation and use of greywater for agriculture could lead to a significant reduction in our demand for water resources.

Another example is that of Singapore, where there are no natural aquifers and groundwater. The country has constituted the National Water Agency, PUB, for the primary purpose of implementing integrated water management. Singapore is known to close the ‘water loop’ by managing the entire water cycle from the collection of rainwater, to the purification and supply of drinking water, to the treatment of used water.

Community-led drinking water initiatives

Some of the best practices of decentralized planning for water conservation include involving the community in improving access to clean drinking water. Initiatives like the Hiware Bazaar in Maharashtra and the Swajal pilot project serve as good examples of this.

Further, each drinking water scheme should have a ready infrastructure that supports collection and basic treatment of domestic and non-fecal wastewater. Construction of simple waste stabilization ponds and initiation of local water recycling could also go a long way in implementing an improved water management plan at the ground level.

Making water conservation everyone’s business is the way to enhance public welfare!

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