Water scarcity is undoubtedly one of the worst risks facing our word today. The world population of 7.5 billion people depend on the existing strained water supply and the future compounded by the climate change risks seems grimmer. The UN Global Compact recently estimated that ‘the global demand for water is set to outgrow current extraction capacity by 40% in 2030’. This itself is a strong marker for the kind of high water-stressed (more water users are competing for limited water supply) times we live in. The World Resource Institute’s Aqueduct Water Risk Atlas depicts how most of the countries in the world fall between medium to high water risk and to note more critically, the conditions of developing countries are by far the worst.
India especially lies amongst the high water-stressed countries in the world. A recent article in the Scientific American emphasises this point further by iterating ‘countries such as India are likely to be hit hard by global warming, which will bring more freak weather such as droughts that will lead to serious water shortages and affect agricultural output and food security.’
The dynamics of water scarcity is a complex issue in India. Weather risks such as low or erratic rainfall, groundwater depletion, low accessibility to clean and safe water, lack of proper sanitation etc are directly affecting the health, education, and livelihoods of people. Amongst the predominant and urgent need to address such a water challenge is to first ensure the basics. Access to clean drinking water is, therefore, a priority in this sphere. Rural India faces more hurdles in terms of accessibility to clean drinking water as well as the quality. Its doesn’t come as a surprise then that why The Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation has laid out a robust strategy plan to tackle this issue in the rural areas. Some of the critical takeaways from the challenges and corresponding strategies highlighted in the department’s plan are:
- Source Sustainability
Maintaining an adequate water source with respect to the required quantity and quality is a major issue. Groundwater exploitation to meet irrigation demands, erratic rainfall and improper or lack of water conservation methods are leading to severe water scarcity especially during summer months.
- Participatory Integrated Water Resource Management at Village, district and state levels focusing on the optimal use of rainwater, surface water and groundwater with bulk water supply as per the need.
- Water security planning and implementation at the local levels.
- Sustainability plans such as Water Harvesting and Ground Water Recharge methods to be implemented at block and village level as water source sustainability measures.
- Water Quality
The rural areas have been facing the problem of inadequate or unsafe water quality for many years now. Unsafe water storage practices, contaminated water source, arsenic, iron, fluoride contamination and salinity caused by over exploitation of ground water have been instrumental in several health issues and morbidity especially amongst women and children. The problem exacerbates during both during monsoons as well as summer months when chances of contamination or shortage is very high.
- Source protection and water safety plan to prevent contamination of water.
- Regular monitoring and testing of water quality.
- Treatment of water in contaminated sources through cost-effective technologies, safe distribution channels and household storage and use practices.
- Adherence to legal water quality standards.
- Improving Service Delivery
Lack of community involvement in planning and implementation of water supply services has a limited or little impact on the efficiency of such services. The operations and maintenance services have been working on a project mode till now. Transition from such a project mode of working to a decentralized participatory method will ensure emphasis on providing, improving, and sustaining high standards of drinking water supply services.
- Involvement of communities in planning, implementation and managing their own schemes
- Clarity in roles and responsibilities of government institutions, private sector, NGOs, etc
Improving access to and quality of drinking water impacts the quality of life of communities in a major way. Women and children are specially benefitted and communities in general attune to a more healthy lifestyle.
Though the challenges and strategies mentioned are not exhaustive but it can certainly help companies in understanding the overall country strategy pertaining to this issue. By building upon such existing mechanisms, CSR initiatives can compound their impact. This will also serve as a good base upon which companies can build on their partnership with the government and thereby amplify the impact.