Water, the gift of nature. How do we preserve it?

One of the most important natural resources for life on Earth is water. Water covers over 97 percent of the earth’s surface, with about 3% of that being fresh water that can be used for drinking, agriculture, and other purposes. Under current infrastructure settings, a water scarcity crisis emerges when aggregate demand from all water-using sectors exceeds available supply. There is a global water problem affecting millions of people, from Cape Town to Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia’s teeming megacities. Water scarcity impacts every continent and was named one of the most significant global risks in terms of potential impact over the next decade by the World Economic Forum in 2019.

According to UN estimates, 844 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, trapping families and communities in poverty for generations. Women and children are the most affected, with children being more susceptible to diseases caused by contaminated water and women and girls bearing the burden of transporting water for their families for an estimated 200 million hours each day. Every year on March 22, the United Nations commemorates World Water Day, recognising the urgency of addressing the global water crisis.

The water crisis in India

India, the world’s second most populous country, has a diverse population three times the size of the United States but occupies one-third of the country’s physical space. Water consumption in India is increasing across all sectors, owing to a combination of population expansion, socioeconomic development, and shifting consumption patterns.

Within the country, there is also a great deal of variety in terms of water supply. Only 36% of India’s water resources are available to only 36% of the population, while the remaining 64% must make do with only 29% of the available water (India’s Water Future 2050; Verma & Phansalkar report). In comparison to all other critical inputs such as seed, fertiliser, and so on, irrigation is likely the most crucial in agribusiness productivity. In fact, unless these inputs are paired with irrigation, their entire potential is lost. Excessive water use for food production depletes the entire water table, as it does in all countries with substantial agricultural output.

Although India has made significant advances in both the quantity and quality of municipal drinking water systems, water scarcity is a looming problem in most of the country’s major cities due to population expansion and fast urbanisation. India’s water consumption is predicted to increase at a comparable rate through 2050, representing a 20 to 30 percent increase over current levels of water use. This is mostly due to increased demand in both the industrial and home sectors. Furthermore, because the global population is predicted to exceed 1.6 billion during the same time period, the water scarcity scenario will deteriorate further in the future. As a result, in order to protect the environment and to ensure long-term success, sustainable management is required.

Combating India’s water crisis

Even in the most desert regions of India, many localities benefit from a somewhat rainy environment. Rainwater harvesting could be one method for water collection in these places. Rainwater harvesting has been used in India for over 4,000 years. It’s essentially a simple method of collecting and storing rainwater for drinking, irrigation, and cattle water.

Precipitation harvesting and management, particularly in metropolitan settings, has enormous potential for lowering rainwater runoff and groundwater usage. Many Indian cities benefit from these systems since they provide a great alternative to the main water supply, especially during dry seasons. The widespread installation of these systems is also renewing the natural characteristics of land, aiding in the improvement of groundwater quality, raising its level, and preventing the drying up of wells and tube wells. Furthermore, efficient rainwater collection system deployment reduces water surface runoff, which reduces soil erosion and increases fertility.

Rainwater harvesting is now required in government buildings, commercial complexes, and residential high-rises in almost all Indian states. Some of these laws are currently in place, while others will be implemented soon. The “Master Plan for Artificial Recharge to Ground Water in India,” produced by the Central Ministry for Drinking Water and Sanitation in collaboration with the Central Ground Water Board, is a conceptual document. The master plan calls for the development of around 23 lakh rainwater harvesting structures in rural areas and nearly 88 million artificial recharge and rainwater harvesting structures in urban areas.

Water conservation is critical in the agricultural industry because it is required for the growth of plants and crops. Plants only absorb a portion of rainfall or irrigation water; the rest percolates into the deep groundwater or evaporates from the surface. The “Tank System” has long been the backbone of agricultural output in India’s arid and semi-arid regions. The term “tank system” refers to enormous tanks that are built by bunding or excavating the ground to collect rainfall, control water flow, and collect run-off. These and other simple measures can be used to lessen the demand for ground water for irrigation. As a result, agricultural water demand can be reduced by increasing the efficiency of water usage and lowering water loss owing to evaporation.