NEW DELHI : As the slow progress of the southwest monsoon continues to deepen the drought situation, President Ram Nath Kovind on Thursday urged Indians to focus on water conservation and management to tackle the crisis.

“Over time, the traditional and effective practices of water conservation are disappearing. Houses have come up over ponds and lakes, and the vanishing water sources have accentuated the water crisis for the poor," said Kovind, while addressing the joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on Thursday.

Highlighting that the growing water crisis is the biggest challenge in the 21st century, he added that the situation is likely to get worse due to the increasing impact of climate change and global warming.

Human-induced warming had already reached 1°C above pre-industrial levels by 2017, and the United Nations inter-governmental panel on climate change (IPCC) has warned that it may reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate. Recent climate studies have warned that this could lead to a severe water crisis in heavily populated countries like India.

“We should seriously take up water conservation and management, and must conserve water for our children and future generations," he said, expressing concern over the prevailing water situation in the country.

At least eight states —Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan—are reeling under drought conditions. Terming the decision to form the ministry of Jal Shakti, a “decisive step", which will have “far-reaching benefits", he said the centre is fully conscious of the crisis and stands by every citizen.

“With the support of state governments and sarpanches at the village level, it is being ensured that farmers are assisted and the scarcity of drinking water is tackled," he said.

Kovind also said that the government will launch initiatives to clean up other rivers apart from Ganga, including the Kaveri, Periyar, Narmada, Yamuna, Mahanadi and Godavari, during its second term. The campaign for closure of drains releasing effluents in the Ganga will also be accelerated, he added.