India is home to 18 percent of the global population but only has 4 percent of the global water resources. Being among the world’s most water-stressed countries, it still remains one of the largest water users per unit of GDP. While population growth and economic development have been putting increased pressure on water resources, climate change, leading to inadequate rainfalls, flooding, or draughts has made the situation even worse. Based on my experience of working in the Water sector, I believe that we need to act together and truly commit to making big, practical changes, some of which are listed below:
Water Reuse and Recycling
In most areas affected by acute water scarcity, the cost of wastewater treatment and reuse is often lower than the cost of obtaining or transporting freshwater. Instead of tapping into the primary water resources, some cost-efficient sewage treatment systems can be installed to recycle used greywater, particularly the greywater that comes from the kitchen, shower, and bath tap. The recycled water can then be stored and used for watering plants, trees, gardens and golf courses, car washing, flushing toilets, and other activities that do not necessarily require fresh water. Moreover, low cost, efficient, and easy to use and maintain water filtration solutions are needed in rural areas where drinking water is contaminated on account of excess salt and/or other minerals and chemicals like arsenic. This can act as an extremely cost-effective method of generating safe and clean drinking water in areas of shortage.
Now deemed mandatory in most housing development and urban building projects, rainwater harvesting should be scaled up even in smaller dwelling units, including the smaller urban conglomerates and semi-rural and rural areas (particularly in public buildings like schools, health centres, and anganwadis). Such a strategy will go a long way in recharging our depleting groundwater resources and in using such water for non-drinking purposes.
Improving Agricultural Practices
In India, agriculture continues to be one of the biggest drains on water resources. Employing agricultural practices such as planting crops that require less water, setting up efficient irrigation systems, and using better soil management practices could help the agricultural sector save a tremendous amount of water. Besides, farmers should be educated and encouraged to choose crops wisely with assistance from the government in gaining access to farm-based water conservation mechanisms.
Supporting Government Initiatives
Over the past years, the government has been working on developing solutions to the growing water crisis. By focusing on groundwater recharging projects, micro-irrigation, rainwater harvesting, renovation of traditional water bodies and tanks, reuse of water and recharge structures, and watershed development, the government is gradually developing resilient systems that ensure wider water availability and provide long-term solutions for sustainable use of water. Most recently, the nation-wide campaign ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan’ was launched as a mass movement to encourage rainwater conservation via active participation of the people from both urban and rural areas.
While the government is actively doing its bit in promoting better water management in the country, the responsibility of managing the water situation falls collectively on all stakeholders including hydrogeologists, economists, planners, and most importantly, our communities. By facilitating social ownership, encouraging public participation, building peoples’ organisations, and strengthening community governance structures, the local communities can be empowered to tackle challenges at the grassroot level and come together in the common goal of achieving water security.
Effective water management can balance out the water-related impacts of climate change, population, development, and various other factors. While on one hand, civic participation in carrying out sustainable practices that focus on conserving, storing, and reusing water can play a key role in solving the water crisis, the use of IoT technology, sensors, data-driven approach, and innovations such as smart water purifiers and auto-maintenance systems can also play a critical role in ensuring water security in India.
Written By R K Gupta Founder of Vibgyor Marvels, Former Chairman-cum-Managing Director, WAPCOS and NPCC, Ministry of Jal Shakti, Government of India, President, India Water Partnership