Imminent Water Crisis in India
Nina Brooks, August 2007
"There will be constant competition over water, between farming families and urban dwellers, environmental conservationists and industrialists, minorities living off natural resources and entrepreneurs seeking to commodify the resources base for commercial gain" -UNICEF report on Indian water.
More than two billion people worldwide live in regions facing water scarcity and in India this is a particularly acute crisis. Millions of Indians currently lack access to clean drinking water, and the situation is only getting worse. India’s demand for water is growing at an alarming rate. India currently has the world’s second largest population, which is expected to overtake China’s by 2050 when it reaches a staggering 1.6 billion, putting increase strain on water resources as the number of people grows. A rapidly growing economy and a large agricultural sector stretch India’s supply of water even thinner. Meanwhile, India’s supply of water is rapidly dwindling due primarily to mismanagement of water resources, although over-pumping and pollution are also significant contributors. Climate change is expected to exacerbate the problem by causing erratic and unpredictable weather, which could drastically diminish the supply of water coming from rainfall and glaciers. As demand for potable water starts to outstrip supply by increasing amounts in coming years, India will face a slew of subsequent problems, such as food shortages, intrastate, and international conflict. India’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. India’s climate is not particularly dry, nor is it lacking in rivers and groundwater. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch and rendered what water is available practically useless due to the huge quantity of pollution. In managing water resources, the Indian government must balance competing demands between urban and rural, rich and poor, the economy and the environment. However, because people have triggered this crisis, by changing their actions they have the power to prevent water scarcity from devastating India’s population, agriculture, and economy. This paper is an overview of the issues surrounding India’s water scarcity: demand and supply, management, pollution, impact of climate change, and solutions the Indian government is considering. I. Demand and Usage
In 2006 between the domestic, agricultural, and industrial sectors, India used approximately 829 billion cubic meters of water every year, which is approximately the size of Lake Erie. By 2050 demand is expected to double and consequently exceed the 1.4 trillion cubic meters of supply. 
Figure 1: Water Demand by Sector
Source: Earth Trends 2001, World Resources Institute
India’s 1.1 billion people need access to clean drinking water. The demand for drinking water is divided between the urban and rural populations, and comprises about 4-6% of total water demand. Due to the amenities of typical urban life, such as flush toilets and washing machines, people living in cities tend to lead more water intensive lives. The urban population has doubled over the past 30 years, now representing 30% of India’s total population and is expected to reach 50% of the total population by 2025. Population growth is going to accelerate the water crisis in India, especially as more and more people move into the cities and become part of the middle class. Because the rivers are too polluted to drink and the government is unable to consistently deliver freshwater to the cities, many urban dwellers are turning to groundwater, which is greatly contributing to the depletion of underground aquifers. Rural citizens face a similar crisis. Currently 30% of the rural population lack access to drinking water, and of the 35 states in India, only 7 have full availability of drinking...
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