[22 April 2024] The Hindu Op-ed: Preparing India for water stress, climate resilience

Mains PYQ Relevance: 
Q) Suggest measures to improve water storage and irrigation system to make its judicious use under depleting scenarios. (UPSC IAS/2020)
Q) What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India? (UPSC 2019)


Q) If National Water Mission is properly and completely implemented, how will it impact the country?  (UPSC 2012)
1. Part of the water needs of urban areas will be met through recycling of waste water.The water requirement of coastal cities with inadequate alternative sources of water will be met by adopting appropriate technologies that allow for use of ocean water.
2. All the rivers of Himalayan origin will be linked to the rivers of peninsular India.
3. The expenses incurred by farmers for digging bore wells and for installing motors and pump sets to draw groundwater will be completely reimbursed by the Government.
Select the correct answer using the codes given below:

(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 2 only
(c) 3 and 4 only
(d) 1, 2, 3 and 4


Prelims: World Earth Day;

Mains: Environmental Governance;

Mentor comments: Prolonged water stress can have devastating effects on public health and economic development. More than two billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water; and nearly double that number more than half the world’s population—are without adequate sanitation services. Without better water management, population growth, economic development and climate change are poised to worsen water stress. 

Let’s learn

Why in the News?

On account of Earth Day (April 22), India needs to be prepared for water stressed challenges. Recently, IMD has also predicted a hotter summer and longer heat waves from April to June. 

Present Scenario:

India houses 18% of the world’s population (2.4% of the earth’s surface area), having just 4% of global freshwater resources. 

Nearly half of its rivers are polluted, and 150 of its primary reservoirs are at just 38% of their total live storage capacity. 

India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. 

The Present challenge before the Indian Govt. to combat Climate Change:

  • Heavy Investment: India has invested heavily in disaster preparedness, but the nature of climatic shocks will continue to change. There will be sudden shocks (heavy rainfall, rapid declines in water availability) as well as slow onset but periodic stresses (reduced water retention in soils, changes in trend lines for rainfall). 
  • Lack of Preparedness: India is programmed to consider acute stresses (heat, water, or extreme weather) as temporary, to be handled often as disaster relief. Seasonal disaster preparedness and responses are no longer sufficient to tackle climate risks. 
  • High Interdependence: The climate is directly related to the economy, and the economic production frontier will expand or shrink depending on the intersections between land, food, energy, and water. Climate action cannot be left to a few particular sectors.

Relationship between Water and the Economy

  • A key component of the Economy:
    • Agriculture: The India Employment Report 2024 shows that Agriculture still employs around 45% of the population and absorbs most of the country’s labor force. Precipitation is the primary source of soil moisture and both blue (rivers and aquifers) water and green (vegetation) water impact the food we grow.
  • Allied Sectors: The Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW) study showed that monsoon rainfall is changing patterns in India, with 55% of ‘tehsils’ or sub-districts seeing a significant increase of more than 10% in southwest monsoon rainfall. 
  • A key component of the Clean Energy Transition: 
    • Green hydrogen: It is seen as a crucial pillar for decarbonizing industry and long-distance transport sectors. The Green hydrogen is produced using water and electricity sourced from renewables. Pumped storage hydropower which acts as a natural battery is an important component of a clean but reliable power system. 
    • If there is a climate crisis, it will impact hydrometeorological disasters. According to the UN World Water Development Report 2020, almost 75% of natural disasters in the last two decades were related to water. 

What does the Effective Water Governance need?

  • Needs to recognize Interactions with Food and Energy Systems: Although India has adopted several policies, most do not recognize this nexus while planning or at the implementation stage.
    • For example, while the scaling up of green hydrogen is desirable, the link with water availability is not always considered. 
    • Similarly, the impact of scaling up solar irrigation pumps on groundwater levels must be analyzed to deploy the technology where there is an optimal mix of solar resources and higher groundwater levels. 
  • Need to identify the Food-Land-Water nexus: Policies need to be designed differently, based on local evidence and community engagement. India needs to focus on the judicious use of blue and green water through water accounting and efficient reuse.
    • For Example, the National Water Mission targets increasing water use efficiency by 20% by 2025. 
    • Similarly, the Atal Mission on Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) 2.0 calls for reducing non-revenue water, which is lost before it reaches the end user, to less than 20% in urban local bodies. 
  • Need for Water Accounting Principles: The present policies and programs are not backed by any baseline set using water accounting principles that will help quantify freshwater use. It is essential for promoting water use efficiency and creating incentives for investments in treated wastewater reuse.
    • For example, in the absence of water use data for the reference year, it is difficult to quantify the potential water saving in one sector, such as agriculture.
  • Need to leverage financial tools: Financial commitments for climate change adaptation in the water and agriculture sectors are still relatively small. It is necessary to raise money for climate adaptation in the water sector.
    • For Example, India’s Green Credit Programme has the potential to partially bridge the adaptation funding gap by encouraging investment in wastewater treatment, desalination plants, and agricultural extension services. 
    • Similarly, investments in India under Corporate Social Responsibility, there is a potential to leverage about ₹12,000 crore worth of investments every year.

Conclusion: A water-secure economy is the first step towards a climate-resilient one. It is possible to make a start by pursuing more coherence in water, energy and climate policies, creating data-driven baselines to increase water savings, and enabling new financial instruments and markets for adaptation investments. 

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