Photo: HT
Photo: HT

Celebrating World Water Day in the shadow of drought

As the world celebrates World Water Day on 22 March, the situation in India is grim

New Delhi: As the world celebrates World Water Day on 22 March, the situation in India is grim.

In Maharashtra’s parched Latur district, the collector has imposed Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code, banning the assembly of more than five people near tanker-filling points, public wells, tanker-plying routes and storage tanks. The ban, which will be in place till 31 May, aims to prevent violence over water and ensure proper water rationing. Four other districts are approaching the railways to help bring water.

Last week, the Punjab legislature unanimously passed a law to return land acquired for the Sutlej-Yamuna Link (SYL) to the original property owners. The link would have shared Punjab’s waters with neighbouring states such as Haryana. The move rekindled memories of the Cauvery water riots, when protestors in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka clashed over sharing river water.

Union transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari is hopeful that things will improve in Maharashtra, his home state. “In Marathwada, the crisis is very big but now there is a solution. Out of the rain water, we have 70% is going to the sea, 15-20% is going to dam and lakes and another 15-20% going towards water conservation. In my inland waterways programme, we are making a check dam with watergate and maintaining three-metre water."

He added, “At the same time, we need to concentrate more on water conservation. Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have higher agricultural growth rate because of water conservation. They are making wells in rural areas, creating check dams."

Gadkari was speaking at a CNBC TV18-Mint event on Monday.

Stressing on the need for increased storage, Benedito Braga, president of the World Water Council said, “We need to increase resilience to climate variability through more storage capacity. We can be prepared for situations like droughts. It is important that governance involves all stakeholders including the non-governmental organizations to make it more sustainable. Water security is dependent on climate."

He added, “India is one of the fastest growing countries in the world with a lot of challenges. These are important challenges which you will find solutions to problems being faced by other countries as well. The solutions that India finds, is important that they be shared with the world. India needs to be on board in capacity building to fight the water crisis."

After two consecutive droughts, water levels are fast depleting in India’s reservoirs. Storage available in 91 major reservoirs for the week ending 17 March was 43.394 billion cubic metres (BCM) which is 27% of the total capacity. This was 70% of the storage of corresponding period of last year and 74% of storage of average of last 10 years. The total storage capacity of these 91 reservoirs is 157.799 BCM. This accounts for 62% of the country’s estimated capacity.

The United Nations has set the theme for this year’s water day as ‘Water and Jobs’, to focus on how enough quantity and quality of water can change lives and livelihood to transform the society and economy. The water sector employs half of the world’s workers with more than 1.5 billion people working in sectors related or dependent on water for their functioning.

PTI contributed to this story