India is already facing a water crisis—and it is only going to get worse

It’ll get harder.
It’ll get harder.
Image: Reuters/Ajay Verma
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Water scarcity has begun early in India. Corporations and farmers have been guzzling surface water, groundwater levels have been reducing, and the amount of pollutants in water is increasingly rapidly, according to a new report by the World Resources Institute.

More than 100 million people in India are living in places where water is severely polluted. Out of the 632 districts examined to determine the quality of ground water, only 59 districts had water safe enough to drink. The yellow and red areas in the map show the places where concentration of pollutants such as chlorine, fluoride, iron, arsenic, and nitrate exceed national safety limits.

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In 2011, some 130 million people lived in the districts where the concentration of at least one pollutant is higher than the levels considered safe. And more than 20 million people lived in the eight districts where at least three pollutants go past the safety standards. Bagalkot in Karnataka has the most unsafe drinking water with five out of the six pollutants exceeding safety limits.

With increasing industrialisation and urbanisation, more than 40% of India’s available surface water is being used every year. In the northwestern region,the breadbasket of India, about 80% of the surface water is being used.

Image for article titled India is already facing a water crisis—and it is only going to get worse

Once surface water is exhausted, people dig to find more water. Groundwater levels across 4,000 wells studied by the authors have receded by 54% in the last seven years. Falling groundwater levels mean water is further away from the surface and hence less accessible.

Many farmers depend on groundwater levels and rains to grow crops. About 65% of cultivable land in the country doesn’t have irrigation facilities. To make matters worse, the government subsidises electrical pumps for farmers which they use to pump water putting a lot of strain on the electrical grids in India—a power-starved country.

The report states that with more than half of India’s total area is facing high to extremely high stress, almost 600 million people are at higher risk of surface-water supply disruptions. Shrinking supply might have serious ramifications for the country’s agriculture sector which uses 90% of the available water (pdf).

While the current situation looks quite grim, there is a possibility that it can get worse. Water supply is expected to fall 50% below demand by 2030.