India’s water quality crisis and 5 ways to improve our ranking

Water Quality Index is a simple way to present to citizens data pertaining to the quality of water within the state. Just like the Air Quality Index, or UV Index, it provides readings as per a healthy benchmark – deemed through a series of tests and research findings – and an assessment of where the water tapped from various sources across the country ranks.

Earlier this year a proposal to introduce a committee to develop a Water Quality Index, similar to the one already developed and in-use Air Quality Index (AQI) was floated in India. Soon after, a committee comprising senior environment scientists from Telangana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and other a few other states was then summoned to undertake this assessment.

On 15th June 2018, NITI Ayog released the first of its alarming reports painting a dismal picture for India as a whole, as far as water quality rankings go. Already facing the worst water crisis in history, India ranks 120 among 122 countries in the water quality index, with the situation slated to get far worse. Projections state that the demand for water will be twice the available supply by 2030.

The 6th of 17 Sustainable Development Goals floated by the United Nations Development Program focuses on ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation as a key action point towards ending poverty by 2030.

Avinash Kumar, Director – Programs and Policy, WaterAid India says in his message in this report on Drinking Water Quality in India, “India has more number of people in rural areas – 63.4 million – living without access to clean water than any other country in the world. That is more than the combined population of Punjab, Haryana and Uttarakhand. Compared globally, that is as many people as living in Australia, Sweden, Sri Lanka and Bulgaria,” citing a truly catastrophic crisis on our hands.

In fact, it is estimated that by 2020, India will become a water-stressed nation. The facts though alarming, aren’t really surprising given that an approximated 600 million Indians are said to have water-related issues, 75% of India’s households still do not have drinking water, and 70% of the water supply is contaminated. While Gujarat topped the list with a healthy score of 76 (out of 100), it was followed close by Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra. Additionally, it also states that 52% of India’s agricultural area is still dependent on rainfall, bringing to focus the need for expansion and last-mile efficiency of irrigation methods in use.

The access and availability of water impacts not just the health and lives of citizens, but also has an impact on livelihoods, 70% of which is still dependent on agriculture and allied sectors. But that’s not all. The sustainability and long-term balance of the ecosystem – soil, water, air – very nuanced, minutely interdependent and linked, also depends on the overall health of each element. There is no better time than now, to begin to reverse this crisis, whether through simple, small measures implemented within every household, or policy-level changes that can mobilise greater change.

Rain water harvesting: an overdependence on ground-water alone, despite receiving an abundance of rain in the form of a solid monsoon has been one of our biggest undoing. Several cities like Bangalore, facing an excessive demand and steep increase in extraction levels, are fast drying up. The NITI Ayog report warned that Bangalore could potentially run out of groundwater by 2020. This is alarming, given that Karnataka as a whole stands in the top 5 states in the water quality rankings. Exploitation of our natural resources and not enough attention to recharging them will ensure that we get there faster. Rain water harvesting is a proven and sustainable method to channel the force of the monsoon to recharging this groundwater. Given the rampant development and real-estate growth, rain water harvesting should become a mandated practice closely tied with the issuance of licenses to dig borewells.

Efficient irrigation: despite the tremendous improvements in infrastructure post the green-revolution, issues pertaining to efficient management of irrigation systems persist. Traditionally, we have focused on large dams, however it is increasingly seen that these have definite constraints in providing economic and efficient channels of irrigation to the last mile. Smaller, focused systems like surface works and others like drip and sprinkler irrigation must be looked at. Awareness about these as well as the urgent need to return water to ground sources is a crucial step in restoring the water table.

Reduce water footprint: the 2013 drought in Maharashtra, said to be one of the worst experienced in 40 years, shook the country. While the larger reason was a failed monsoon the previous year, given climate change and weather irregularities, several environmentalists believe this is a reality we must brace ourselves for. Citizens must be made aware of their water footprint, encouraged to examine consumption patterns and drastically reduce thoughtless wastage. We would do good to find ways to judiciously use the resources we have left, as well as be sensitive to actively restoring those that are fast drying up. As a country, with the ongoing efforts to sanitation and provide toilets, we could explore waterless toilets and harness other energy sources such as wind to do the work water has.

Clean up and restore existing waterways and water bodies: There are countless ways in which our systems are failing us when it comes to managing or containing water pollution. Sanitation, public health and water management in even the most urban Indian cities fall severely short of healthy benchmarks. Plastic and other waste, sewerage and industrial effluents continue to choke our waterways, rivers and find their way to the sea, thereby further polluting our water systems. This poses serious health hazards and has a horrific impact on the health and stability of the water table, which is the only source for all our water.

Waste water management: Managing waste water is one of the prominent ways in which we can immediately clean up our act and return largely clean water back to our groundwater sources, or for use in irrigation and other needs. Whether in the smallest homes, larger housing complexes or commercial and industrial establishments, energy-efficient, cost-effective and sustainable solutions to manage waste water are the need of the hour. Our solutions meet the needs of a wide range of industries and municipal bodies, and can be custom designed to effectively and substantially degrade organic waste. Get nature to work for you with our help, and see how you can dramatically reduce sludge, curb operational costs and significantly lower COD and BOD levels in water significantly.

Unless we urgently look at means to contain the inflow of pollutants and effluents into our sources of water, explore sustainable methods to conserve and recharge ground water and other finite sources and find ways in which to better access and availability of water to all our citizens, our future will continue to look bleak and very, very dry.

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