India is a water stressed country moving towards water scarcity

Water has been considered as a free resource for years. With the rapid growth in population and increasing demand of water on one hand and depletion of available water on the other has led India to acute water stress. This article deals in detail with the problem of water stress/water scarcity in India, causes of water scarcity, challenges in the water sector, Changes proposed in the National Water Policy, 2012 and ways to deal with water scarcity.

Water scarcity in India
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Water scarcity in India

We all know that both plants and animals cannot live without water. Water is vital for fulfilling our need for food security as well as to feed livestock. No industrial production can be done in absence of water. It is the most important gift of nature needed to conserve the environment and biodiversity. The uses of water are innumerable and they can be summed up in one sentence ‘No water- no Life’ Almost the whole world is facing the problem of water scarcity but India is most vulnerable because the lifestyle here is in- disciplined and the population is growing rapidly. Water scarcity can be divided into two broad categories.
  1. Physical scarcity of water- It occurs when there is not sufficient water to fulfil the demand. For example: - degradation of environment, decline in groundwater, and unequal water distribution.

  2. Economic scarcity of water- It occurs when there is a lack of investment and proper management to use existing water sources.

Though India do not fall into the typical ‘Water Scarcity’ category at present but it is definitely a ‘Water Stressed’ country. The statement given by the Union Minister of Water, Mr. Harish Rawat on 22th May 2013 is evident to prove the water crisis in India. He said while talking to a news agency that "We are a water stressed nation inching towards water scarcity," and the situation in some states is critical because the underground water levels are depleting at an alarming rate.

Causes of Water Stress in India and their effects

  1. Population - Water is essential for consumption. The rapidly growing population of India is a serious concern as it is creating heavy burden on the per capita water availability. The per capita water availability was 5177 cubic metre in 1951 when the total population was 361 million. It reduced drastically to 1820 cubic metre in 2001 when the population increased to 1027 million. It is estimated that if the trend of increase in population remains the same, by 2025, the per capita water availability for the whole country will go down to 1341 cubic metre. This condition is considered as Water Stress when the per capita water availability is between 1000 to 1700 cubic metre per year and it is considered water scarcity when the availability reduces to 1000 cubic metre per year. Many of the states in India are in the water stress condition at present and it is estimated that most of the Indian states will reach the water scarcity condition by 2025.

  2. Irrigation - As agriculture is the major occupation of people in a developing country like India, water is needed in very large amount for irrigation in order to increase the food production and provide food security to the increasing population. It has been estimated that more than 70% of the irrigation water is wasted by not giving water for irrigation to dry areas. Farmers in India have practice flood irrigation which results in huge wastage of water. In addition to this farmers are charged on the basis of area irrigated instead of quantity of water supplied which gives farmers freedom to waste water to some extent. Excessive irrigation is also causing damage to soil productivity. The water with dissolved salts is reaching lower layers of soil. When these salts come to the top soil through capillary action, the soil becomes unfit for cultivation. The water in such areas has high salt concentration that makes it unsuitable for consumption.

  3. Hydro- Electricity - Apart from irrigation, many rivers in India are also used for generating hydro power. This calls for construction of huge reservoirs or dams which sometimes prove harmful to surrounding environment in the form of water shortage. Besides this there is also the fear that the hydropower projects will increase global warming effect, because of methane. Methane rot underwater and once water goes through hydropower turbines, methane is released into the atmosphere.

  4. Pollution of water - The pollution of water make it inadequate for consumption and many other uses. Waste from industries, fertilizers used for crops and municipal wastes are not only detrimental to the environment but also to underground water resources. It has been estimated that in New Delhi about 36 million tons of sewage water is generated every day. Only 50% of this is treated and the remaining is flown into the Yamuna directly. Such practices in the industries are polluting 18 major rivers in the country. The rivers, lakes, wells etc. in the India have been found to be contaminated by fluorides, nitrites and other toxic metals. As the people living in rural areas consume such hard water, they fall victims to many fatal diseases.

  5. Climatic change - The change in climate lead to intense droughts. Drying up of rivers, wells, lakes and other water resources is caused by less rainfall, high temperatures, diversion of streams etc. Many lakes have disappeared from our country due to change in the climatic conditions. The level of water in the rivers is also decreasing due to climatic changes. Change in climate and environment also brings floods that cause dissolving of salt water in fresh water resources near the Coast- Lines.

  6. Lack of proper policy for the Water sector – Water has created many major conflicts between people and the government. Improper distribution of water to different regions for consumption as well as irrigation and quality of water has always been a major issue. The Govt. has made many policies to solve these problems and has also come up with mega projects but due to the lack of proper policy, no effective change can be seen. Also there is no synchronization between the various departments in this field which hampers the effective implementation of the policies.

Ways to overcome the problem of water scarcity

  1. A check on the population - The people in India especially those in rural areas need to be made aware of the bad effects of growing population. The policies and awareness programs for controlling population by the govt. need to be implemented in a more effective way.

  2. Increasing water storage capacity - Farm ponds, percolation tanks, water reservoirs and construction of dams will help in retaining more surface water, thus increasing the ground water recharge. Rainwater harvesting should also be encouraged to overcome the problem of water scrcity.

  3. Measures to check soil erosion – Improper soil and water conservation measures lead to severe soil erosion. They are also causing silting of rivers beds and reservoirs and flood across the country. Deforestation is also one of the main reasons behind silting and soil erosion. We need strict laws in this regard. By Reforestation of degraded forests and Afforestation of wastelands soil and water can be conserved.

  4. Judicious distribution of water - Proper distribution of water can help in preventing water scarcity. Self- interest of political bodies has a great impact on the distribution of water throughout the country. Many sectors get more water than what is needed while those who genuinely need water are deprived of it. To overcome such partiality and wastage of resources, a transparent programme needs to be implemented. Along with this regular monitoring can also improve the speed and quality of the projects.

  5. Efficient irrigation practices - Efficiency in irrigation is the most important factor. 70% of the water used for irrigation is wasted. As the water supplied is not measured, farmers flood the field with lots of water as they do not need to pay any extra cost. The farmers need to be persuaded to adopt micro-irrigation systems, which will reduce the water requirement. It will also bring down the cost of production, by increasing the area under irrigation. A ban on flood irrigation should be considered by the Government of India.

  6. Watershed development - To make best use of the rainwater for agricultural purpose, development of watersheds is an essential programme. It also improves soil conservation and biodiversity thus proving a boon to environment. We are fortunate that our Government has kept watershed development in the priority list for assuring water supply of agriculture where there is adequate rain. However the budget provided by the Government of India is not adequate to carry out the activities of watershed development. We need additional funds to support the practices under it.

  7. Control of water pollution – The water from industries as well as homes is being transformed into saline water, sewage or effluent which is degrading both environment and water. People should be persuaded by rewards and punishment method to make optimum use of water. Discharge of sewage water and effluent into water bodies should be banned. Recycling of waste water should be encouraged which can be used again for agriculture and industrial production. This will help in keeping the water bodies clean and its water adequate for use.

  8. Desalination of sea water - As we know that more than 70% of the available water on earth surface is saline, desalination of sea water can be a great option to meet the scarcity of water for human consumption. At present this process is not very popular as it is very expensive. However, in future by making use of solar power, it can be an alternative to fulfil the water needs specially in the coastal areas.

  9. Research and development - Govt. of India need to invest in research for monitoring underground water and weather forecast. Researches related to water efficient crops, drought resistant crops etc. also needs to be taken up.

Changes proposed in the National Water Policy, 2012

Following are the changes proposed in different sectors in the National Water Policy, 2012.

Agriculture sector

  • Improvement in water usage efficiency.

  • Adoption of rainwater harvesting and watershed management techniques.

  • Reduction of subsidies on power supply particularly for pumping water.

  • Prevention of ground water exploitation by introducing differential pricing, rewards and punishments.

  • Implementation of National River Link project which aims to connect 30 rivers and canals to generates 175 trillion litres of water.

Industrial sector

  • Encourage recycling and treatment of industrial wastewater through regulations and subsidies.

  • Encourage introduction of new technologies which consume less water.

Domestic sector

  • Introduction of a policy for mandatory rainwater harvesting in cities.

  • Propagation of efficient water usage.

  • Creation of awareness about water conservation among common public.


India is not a water deficit country. As a result of negligence and absence of proper monitoring of the projects and policies in this regard, it is facing water stress of a critical extent. If this continues, India will reach a level of ‘Water scarcity’ in the coming years. We need to make the best use of the technologies that are available to conserve the existing water resources. We need to convert the existing water resources in a form where their water can be used for different purposes such as; agriculture, industries, human consumption etc. Change in lifestyle of all water users aiming at conserving water can help can help India to conquer over the water scarcity in the future. The challenges in this field can be faced and managed if we have efficient policies and mechanisms.

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Author: K Mohan03 Jul 2013 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4

What a wonderful heading which attracted me instantly to this article. Truly said by you, we have to heavily depend on the water source and that is the monsoon.If the monsoon fails even for one season, our agriculture, drinking and other problem starts like wise over rainfall is also the problem which gives rise to overflowing of dams and diversion of excess water to the sea. So in order to get out of scarcity, rain harvesting by each individual home can increase the ground water table and also the water scarcity in some cities and villages can be mitigated to some extent.

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