“Water- a bequest of nature” bases all innovations in curbing water crisis to make our blue planet green and sustainable.
Water scarcity is not a planetary phenomenon; it is the consequence of the anthropogenic interventions with the hydrologic cycle. It is not a future forewarning, it’s happening now!
‘Death by dehydration’ is a reality in the world that calls itself civilized and advanced. Water scarcity is not confined; it is spreading like an epidemic all across the globe. The aggregate demand of water is exceeding the available supply, under prevailing institutional and infrastructural arrangements. So much so, UNESCO predicts that half the World’s Population will be living in Water-Stressed Areas, mounting concerns of geopolitical conflict as 60% of all surface water on Earth comes from river basin shared by separate nations and almost 600 aquifers across national territories.
The Washington-based World Resources Institute has chalked out a map that shows the average exposure of water users in each country to baseline water stress, the ratio of total withdrawals to total renewable supply in a given area. A higher percentage means more water users are competing for limited water supplies. It has anticipated 33 countries to be water stressed in 2040. Let’s pick out a few of them from the globe and identify the causes and consequences of water scarcity in these countries.
World Bank has reported Yemen’s population to have doubled to 23.1 million from 12.3 million since 1990, stirring extrapolations that the capital – Sanaa would run dry in 10 years. UN estimate testifying that 14 million people are at present facing ‘pre-famine’ conditions has intensified the severity. The twofold expansion of the population tumour in less than 20 years has eventually led to the ‘weaponization of water’, shaping military conflicts in the parched country!
The people, not connected to the public water networks depend on trucked water, the cost of which is 10 times that of networked water as per the World Bank. The agriculture sector, dominated by the narcotic drug Qat, chewed by 80% of the Yemeni population has 91% share in the country’s water consumption. The crop expansion incentivized by subsidies on diesel fuel (until mid-2014), used in pumping groundwater for irrigation is mining most of Yemen’s existing groundwater. Saudi Arabia’s blockade of humanitarian and commercial goods into Yemen in 2015 is exasperating the severe water scarcity. As per UNICEF, the water pumping stations serving more than three million people in fourteen cities are running out of fuel due to the diesel price hike. The geography itself is not in favour of the capital city which is 2000 meters above sea level in the water-scarce mountain ranges. The current water consumption patterns and weak governance has accelerated the groundwater depletion by more than six meters a year, with reference to the IMF report.
The Middle East is not the only region that is likely to run out of water. The World Resources Institute has also categorized many countries in Africa under medium to extremely high-stress regions. Kenya, along with the neighbouring countries, being some of them, have recently faced draught that has inflicted fatal tragedy on the people, food production and livestock.
The precarious repercussions forced the government of Kenya to declare its drought a national disaster. Caused by global warming, the long drought experienced by the country was the prime perpetrator of water scarcity. The massive urbanization also led to the colossal clearing of erstwhile tree-laden land to create room for the commercial and residential estates. The mount Kenya forest- one of the main water catchment regions in the country has also experienced illegal logging. The reduction in the size of forests has, in turn, reduced the amount of rainfall, escalating water scarcity in the country. The humanitarian crisis caused by severe water shortage accompanied with it yet another predicament of the shortfalls and economic losses in the power sector.
Hydropower and thermoelectric power account for 98% of the world’s electricity production (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis). Kenya’s electricity generation is fueled by two water dependent sources – hydropower and fossil fuels. Business Daily reported that the drought has caused a drop of 4.4 per cent in the amount of energy needed to meet the peak demand, far lower than recommended 15 per cent needed to abate the risk of blackouts.
Similarly, India’s coal power sector suffered substantially due to severe drought in 2016. The International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook 2016 reported that energy production accounts for 10% of the world’s total water withdrawals. The water scarcity would evidently propagate the chain reaction ensuing electricity shut-downs all over the globe! Let’s now talk about one of the fastest growing economies in the world, India.
From parched to polluted, India is facing its ‘worst’ water crisis in history according to the NITI Aayog report, titled ‘Composite Water Management Index’ (CWMI). 75% of the households do not have drinking water access on-premise compelling them to rely on private tankers, bottled water and community water taps etc. Of all the water they have access to, 70% of it is contaminated, placing India on the 120th rank among 122 countries in the water quality index. There are innumerable ‘avoidable’ causes that have steered our country towards water scarcity. They are poor water management techniques, industrialization, population pressure, crumbling infrastructure, over privatization, indiscriminate drilling of borewells and most importantly, and a false sense of entitlement in using water carelessly!
The water scarcity in India is likely to worsen with the predicted population boom to 1.6 billion by the year 2050. ‘Too many people, few water sources’ has manifested into recurrent water conflicts in India like Kaveri river dispute between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Krishna river water dispute among Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Satluj Yamuna canal issue between Punjab and Haryana and so on. The water conflicts mounting from the water crisis would eventually mete out ‘water war’ in the country. Water that connects the landmass with the entire globe could be the reason for its denouement due to the fragility of our international system.
The country’s ability to manage and utilize its water resources efficiently originates from good water governance irrespective of how high water-stressed a country is or would be in the future. Countries like Singapore and Israel have triumphed over their past water extremities and adequately managed their water resources to become self-sufficient.
In 2015, the Washington-based World Resources Institute predicted Singapore to face extremely high water stress by 2040. With no aquifers or lakes of its own, in the initial years of nation building, the country has faced droughts, floods and water pollution. The teething troubles have led the country to strategize about efficient water management. The water supply initiative- Four National Taps comprises water from the local catchment, imported water, highly-purified reclaimed water known as NEWater and Desalinated water. The effective water management and conservation efforts despite being under high water stress regions showcase the ability of a country to cope with the water stress issues through proper water management. Even Israel has faced a series of water-scarce years in the past stirring it to develop smart and advanced water technology. Since 2005, Israel has relied on wastewater reclamation and seawater desalination to provide incessant water supply to its households, industry and agriculture to an otherwise parched country.
The plague of water scarcity is sporadic and endemic for it wouldn’t spare the largest economy in the world –USA. The state of California faces wet and dry years sometimes simultaneously. When 80% of the state’s water consumption is allocated to agriculture, the groundwater depletion and diminishing aquifers are apparent. The extent of water mismanagement is so high that a considerable volume of water is lost even before utilization. In the US alone, 2.1 trillion gallons of clean, treated water was lost each year due to old, leaky pipes and broken water mains. The countries with ample water sources but scarce water supply primarily lag behind in water infrastructure that is largely a governance issue.
‘Water, water, everywhere and not a drop to drink’, best describes the economic water scarcity wherein the inaccessibility of water is not attributed to the physical unavailability of a water source but to the lack of investment and infrastructure. Over a period of time, water scarcity is expected to worsen. Since the causes are human-induced, they can be predicted, avoided and mitigated. It’s important for the civilians to check their water consumption patterns and for the government to initiate macro-critical structural reforms to start a water conservation revolution for only that will slow down the looming disaster that global water scarcity will bring along.
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