Water Scarcity Amidst CoVID-19

Himanshu Choudhery

Ever since the CoVID-19 pandemic began, people around the world are constantly being told to maintain social distancing and also frequently wash their hands with soap. While washing hands may be effective against germs, washing hands at regular interval also means using large quantities of water. The increased consumption of water in a country like India, which is facing an acute shortage of water for the past several years, raises some serious concerns. According to the National Institution for Transforming India or NITI Aayog report, in India, around 600 million people are facing major water stress, and by 2030, around 40 per cent of the population will not have access to potable water. The detrimental effect of acute shortage of potable water is evident from the fact that nearly two lakh people die every year due to this shortage. This report also states that about 21 Indian megacities will probably have no groundwater left by the year 2020, severely affecting around 100 million people in the country. Coupled with climate change and rising temperatures in the future, the water crisis that the country faces is likely to pose a serious challenge.

A hand pump or nalka is a common sight all across India and is used by people to extract groundwater to meet their daily water needs. This picture is from a village in western Uttar Pradesh. Image: Himanshu Choudhery

Although the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted a normal or above-normal monsoon this year, there is no guarantee that the country will truly benefit from this. According to a report by the Central Water Commission, India usually receives around 4,000 billion cubic meters of water annually through rainfall, while the consumption of water in the country is only 3,000 billion cubic meters. Why then are we still facing water scarcity in many parts of the country? The two major reasons for this are excessive wastage of water and our inability to conserve water. 

A few months ago, the Indian city of Chennai was faced with a major water crisis where water had to be transported through railway tankers to meet the water consumption of the city. What triggered the crisis was the drying up of the city’s reservoirs as a result of unplanned development and degradation of existing wetlands. Similarly, in Delhi, where I live, the situation is no different. Almost on a daily basis, thousands of people in the city are fighting for adequate quantity and quality of water supply. The river Yamuna, which is a major source of water for Delhi, along with several other water bodies, is heavily polluted. The groundwater level in the city is also decreasing, although the Delhi government has taken some steps to address this issue. For instance, a plan has been developed by the government to recharge groundwater along the river Yamuna by storing the surplus water overflowing during the monsoon season. The work has already reached an advanced stage, and the pits that have been constructed near the river have led to an increase in the groundwater level. 

Lately, the Delhi government along with the Delhi Jal Board and the Irrigation & Flood Control Department has planned to revive 201 water bodies in the city but the success of this will be dependent on effective implementation and continuous monitoring by the government. Challenges in the past and present include protecting water bodies from illegal encroachment and conversion into garbage dumping sites. In total, there are around 1,009 water bodies in Delhi and these water bodies are very important as they provide suitable habitat to many wild species. As a matter of fact, recently, two species of turtles were spotted for the first time in the water bodies that are located in the Kamla Nehru Biodiversity Park. Besides providing suitable habitat for wildlife, these water bodies are beneficial for human beings as they play a significant role in groundwater recharge, flood protection, climate mitigation and other important ecosystem functions. 

Inter and Intrastate conflicts over management and provision of water have been a trend in the country for a long time now and is perhaps even growing. To mitigate these conflicts, the government should develop better management mechanisms, learning from past failures of water conservation programmes. In my opinion, besides the effective implementation of policies by the government, the participation of citizens in water conservation programmes should also be encouraged. For this purpose, we need to create awareness among citizens about the wastage of water and the importance of conserving water sources at both the local and country level. Water is one of the most basic needs of human beings, and yet, in some parts of the country, people are struggling to have access to even one glass of water, let alone clean drinking water. 

While washing hands is recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a good practice to ward off germs, and stop the spread of viruses, we should also keep in mind that water should not be excessively used or wasted. Simple practices like turning the tap off while rubbing the hands with soap or using one bucket of water instead of turning on the shower to bathe will conserve huge quantities of precious water.

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”

– W.H. Auden

Featured Image by kalhh (pixabay.com)

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