India faces a crippling water crisis | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 29.05.2013
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Asia

India faces a crippling water crisis

Water scarcity has gripped several states in India as groundwater levels continue to deplete at an alarming rate. Mercury levels are rising and large parts of the country are experiencing severe droughts.

Vrinda Kumari, a daily wage laborer stands patiently in the baking hot sun with buckets and water bottles waiting for the municipal water truck that makes its rounds every three days in this New Delhi neighborhood.

As the truck becomes visible, thirsty crowds emerge from nowhere and there is a frenzied scramble.

People scramble to fill up their canisters from water tanks (Copyright: DW/Murali Krishnan)

People scramble to fill up their canisters from water tanks

Underneath the water truck, children squat with little buckets, which they use to collect the drops of water spilling from the undercarriage.

"Scuffles break out regularly," Kumari says. "Sometimes we have to return empty-handed and have to buy water which is expensive. What option do we have? We don't have piped water in our homes and the hand-pumps put up by the government do not work."

"Scarcity of drinking water is affecting our daily routine," agrees Padam Gupta, a shopkeeper in west Delhi. "Many poor neighborhoods in the capital have been badly hit and it is really difficult to live when the temperatures rise."

City planners say Delhi's falling groundwater level has already entered the danger zone and the situation is getting worse by the day. Inequitable distribution, losses in transmission and distribution, and unauthorized use of water have only added to the city's water woes.

"The groundwater situation in Delhi is quite scary. There is progressive lowering of groundwater levels due to the pressures of urbanization," Uttam Gupta, a construction entrepreneur told DW.

Not only Delhi

It is a dilemma that is replicated across many parts of the country. A fast growing economy and a large agricultural sector have stretched the country's supply of water even thinner. Studies show that about 80 percent of the water available is used for farming and less than 10 percent by factories.

A man drinks from a water bottle (Copyright: DW/Murali Krishnan)

Temperatures have soared to around 47 degrees Celsius

Many states are facing acute water shortages, especially Maharashtra in the north because of the severe drought that has gripped Beed, Nanded, Parbhani, Jalna, Aurangabad, Nashik and Satara.

Water riots have also been reported from rural pockets in the southern state of Karnataka.

According to India's Central Groundwater Board, the rains have arrested the groundwater table and reversed the pattern of groundwater extraction. Some 55 percent of the country's wells have registered groundwater levels declining.

Surprisingly, wells in Delhi and the southern state of Andhra Pradesh saw the highest declines between 2007 and 2012.

Mismanagement of resources

Experts say the current crisis is not just the disturbance in the demand and supply curve but also about mismanagement of water resources.

Due to the current heat wave with temperatures of around 45 degree all across India, old electric wires are not capable to take the load (Copyright: DW/W. Suhail)

Energy security is also linked to water security

"This typifies what is happening in the country where population densities are high and agricultural practices are intensive and industrialization is happening in a big way," Nitya Jacob, program director for water at the Centre for Science and Environment told DW. "The water tables have fallen very sharply to about one and a half to two meters a year."

She said India was using its groundwater "faster than nature can replenish it."

According to a recent World Bank report, most major Indian cities will run dry by 2020 unless policy-makers make significant changes in water resource management.

Conservationists point out that India's water security is inextricably linked to food and energy security and therefore efficient systems are crucial.

Ironically, 2013 is "Water Conservation Year" in India.

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