India is water-stressed

India is “water stressed“ and drifting inexorably towards what is technically termed a “water scarcity condition.“ A majority of the country's populace is either forced to use contaminated water, or is deprived of access to the resource entirely.

As the country prepares for a harsh summer, the India Meteorological Department forecasts temperatures will be 1°C above normal in most parts :the latest information from the Union water resources ministry reveals that India can sustain only one drought season, given its live storage.

The numbers make for grim reading. A country is classified “water stressed“ if per capita availability is less than 1,700 cubic metres. In India, the reading against this parameter is 1,545 cubic metres. Factoring multiple variables, including population, the ministry predicts availability could fall to 1,341 cubic metres in 2025, and even plummet to 1,140 cubic metres in 2050, which is perilously close to a “water scarcity condition“ (per capita availability of less than 1,000 cubic metres).

While the prevailing bleak situation can be attributed to successive droughts, the condition is largely a consequence of over-exploitation and pollution over the years. With 68 crore people :56% of the country's population, relying on groundwater, the government has also been encouraging borewells. As many as 9.36 lakh hand pumps have been installed by the government in the past four years, in addition to the hundreds of pumps set up by citizens in recent times.

Another set of documents from the ministry of drinking water and sanitation throw another disturbing fact into stark relief: water in 320 of the 640 districts in the country is contaminated. Among the pollutants are fluoride, arsenic, other chemicals and heavy metals such as chromium and lead. Contaminated water affects more than 6 lakh habitations directly , while many more are adversely affected indirectly . According to the Union health ministry, five diseases that result from water contamination have claimed more than 18,000 lives in the past seven years.

Groundwater reserves in the country have depleted by 50%, and the latest survey by the ministry of water resources indicates that 66% of the wells have registered a decline in water levels while the rest show a marginal increase.

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