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80% of India’s population faces severe water scarcity: study

A study highlights that of the four billion people facing severe water scarcity for at least one month of the year, one billion live in India and 0.9 billion in China


Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

New Delhi: About four billion people, or 66% of the global population, face severe water scarcity for at least one month of the year. And, of those people, nearly a billion are in India, said a study published last week.

If the number of people living under conditions of “moderate to severe water scarcity” for at least a month of the year is taken into account, then the number rises to 4.3 billion people, which is about 71% of the global population.

The study published in international journal Science Advances is authored by Mesfin M. Mekonnen and Arjen Y. Hoekstra.

It highlights that of the four billion people, one billion live in India and 0.9 billion in China—which means every second person in the world facing severe water scarcity for at least a month a year is from India and China.

It also implies that 80% of India’s 1.25 billion population faces severe water scarcity for at least a month every year.

Other countries that face severe water scarcity are Bangladesh (130 million people), the US (130 million, mostly in western states such as California and southern states such as Texas and Florida), Pakistan (120 million, of which 85% are in the Indus basin), Nigeria (110 million) and Mexico (90 million).

The study said that the number of people facing severe water scarcity for at least 4-6 months a year is 1.8-2.9 billion.

That is not all.

According to the study, there are half a billion people who face severe water scarcity all year round.

Of those half a billion people, 180 million live in India, 73 million in Pakistan, 27 million in Egypt, 20 million in Mexico, 20 million in Saudi Arabia and 18 million in Yemen.

“In the latter two countries (Saudi Arabia and Yemen), it (water scarcity) concerns all people in the country, which puts those countries in an extremely vulnerable position,” the study said.

Other countries in which a very large section of the population experiences severe water scarcity year-round are Libya and Somalia (80-90% of the population) and Pakistan, Morocco, Niger and Jordan (50-55% of their population).

The authors of the study said that “fresh water scarcity is increasingly perceived as a global systemic risk” and that previous global water scarcity assessments, measuring water scarcity annually, have underestimated experienced water scarcity by failing to capture seasonal fluctuations in water consumption and availability.

The study said “putting caps to water consumption by river basins, increasing water-use efficiencies, and better sharing of the limited freshwater resources will be key in reducing the threat posed by water scarcity to biodiversity and human welfare”.

The study counted meeting humanity’s increasing demand for freshwater and protecting ecosystems at the same time, thus maintaining blue water footprints within maximum sustainable levels per catchment, as one of the most difficult and important challenges of the present century.

It suggested that proper water scarcity assessments will facilitate governments, companies and investors in developing adequate response strategies, while stating that water productivity in crop production will need to be increased by increasing yields and reducing non-productive evaporation.

The study said that an important part of a strategy to reduce the pressure on limited blue water resources will be to raise productivity of rain-fed agriculture.

“Assessing the sustainability of the water footprint along the supply chain of products and disclosing relevant information will become increasingly important for investors,” the study added.

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