WORLD WATER DAY 2020: INDIA’S CHALLENGES

World Water Day is held on 22 March to help bring attention to a crisis faced by millions around the globe – limited access to fresh, clean water. Each year World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. For 2020 This year’s theme, ‘Water and Climate Change‘, explores how water and climate change are inextricably linked‘. The United Nations General Assembly officially designated 22 March as World Water Day in 1993. Since then, campaigns have focused on improving water quality and access to freshwater for people around the world. In 2015 – and as part of the Sustainable Development Goals – a UN Initiative set a target to make sure everyone on the planet has access to safe water by 2030.

SUGGESTIONS FOR WATER MANAGEMENT IN INDIA

According to the 2011 census, less than half the households with access to water supply in their premises depend on treated tap-water. This means that a majority of India’s households are using private means (such as bore-wells) to extract groundwater without any regulation or concern for conservation. Unplanned urbanisation will only accentuate this problem. The World Bank estimates that 21 percent of communicable diseases in India are linked to unsafe water and the lack of hygiene practices. Further, over 500 children under the age of five die each day from diarrhea in India alone.

GROUNDWATER PROTECTION ZONE

Groundwater resources have been overexploited and are depleting fast, especially in urban areas. One of the steps suggested is to demarcate ‘groundwater protection zones’, in which the extraction of water would be strictly regulated. Activities like mining in the nearby areas, which tend to pollute groundwater, are also sought to be regulated in these zones.

DIFFERENTIAL PRICING

Pricing can be graded, with full cost recovery from high-income groups, affordable access for middle income, and a certain amount of free water for the poor. Alternatively, a minimal amount of free water can be provided to everyone. Water charges should be determined on volumetric basis.

MANAGEMENT AT RIVER BASIN

Given the integral link between aquifers, groundwater and river flows, it is important that planning for water management is done at the level of the river basin itself. This is necessary to prevent local over-extraction, and destruction of catchment areas, while ensuring that all water-related activities are in sync with each other.

There should be a River Basin Authority for each basin, and sub-basin authorities for large basins with distinctive sub-basins. The work of these authorities would be to prepare and implement river basin master plans. All water resources related projects must conform to this master plan.

Additionally, there should be minimum interference in the natural flow of rivers, and the natural state of other water bodies and wetlands. In particular, rivers should be protected from construction on flood plains and from sand mining.

PARTICIPATORY AND COMMUNITY MANAGEMENT

Local communities must have a decisive role in the allocation and use of water in their areas. Water User Associations need to be established with statutory powers at the gram panchayat level to facilitate decentralised decision making.

REDUCTION IN INDUSTRIAL WATER FOOTPRINT

Industries consuming large amounts of water must calculate and declare their water footprint in their annual reports. They must take steps to progressively bring down this footprint every year, and state this progress in their annual reports. They should, ideally, use only recycled water. Use of groundwater for industrial use must be authorised by government. There must be prohibitive penaltie to prevent profligate usage of water, which may include denial of water supply services beyond a threshold.

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