New Delhi– With current availability of water per person per year in India placed at roughly 1,745 cubic metres, experts have called for trans-boundary water governance to tackle the water-stressed situation and, keeping climate change in mind, creation of a water infrastructure.
India in 2016 faced one of its worst droughts in decades which affected almost 330 million people.
“As per studies conducted two years back, 1,745 cubic metre per person per year of water was the availability, this would’ve dropped by today. For water-stressed, the figure is 1,700 and at 1,000 it becomes water scarce,” Dr S.K. Sarkar, distinguished fellow and director of Water Division at The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri) told IANS.
He cautioned that by 2050, India will be water-scarce.
The expert spoke at the sidelines of the recently concluded World Sustainable Development Summit (WSDS) here organised by Teri.
Calling for a model for sustainable consumption, Sarkar pointed to 40 per cent of the urban domestic water being wasted while 70 per cent of the total water, both ground and surface, is being contaminated.
“Due to the climate change and several human-induced reasons like urban waste, water gets contaminated which creates deficiency. Today, the agriculture sector faces 35 per cent water deficiency,” he said.
Government figures suggest that presently about 1,123 billion cubic metres of fresh water is available in India of which 84 per cent is used in agriculture. Studies by Central Water Commission say that over the past five decades, availability of fresh water has dropped from 3,000 cubic metres to 1,123 today.
As per a report by think-tank Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, India’s water demand for irrigation per capita would increase to 1.5 trillion cubic metres by 2050.
Sarkar pointed to poor water infrastructure as a challenge for India in terms of its capacity to deal with climate change.
“In terms of intense events due to climate change, India’s capacity to hold excessive water during floods and managing water during drought is questionable,” Sarkar said.
According to Genevieve Connors from the World Bank, India will need $200 billions to develop its water infrastructure.
Speaking at WSDS here, Connors said: “India will have to work at war footing level — as it did for polio — to ensure water sustainability.”
Water-experts, including Prof Milap Chandra Sharma, a glaciologist at JNU, and Sarkar, the diplomatic rift among countries over trans-border water sharing is another major road block already affecting water availability.
There are in all 270 trans-border rivers globally, making it hard to manage the water sharing, amid absence of a strong water governance regime.
Meanwhile, only 37 countries have ratified the “United Nations Watercourse Convention”.
‘Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses’, or Watercourse Convention, was adopted by the UN in 1997, as a treaty for conservation and proper use of water. It came into effect in 2014, with Vietnam as the last signatory.
“China, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh are not members of this convention. Which is not good because there is no mechanism for water sharing among these countries,” Sarkar told IANS.
According to Prof Milap Chandra Sharma, there are about 87,000 dams in China which, he says, is threatening the environment.
The Tibet Autonomous Region in China is the source to 10 major Asian rivers and 25 per cent of the world’s water on which about 2 billion people in Asia are directly or indirectly dependent.
Acoording to Tempa Gyaltsen, a researcher at the Tibet Policy Institute, Central Tibetan Administration, at Dharamshala in India, China has built 21 dams on the Mekong, 24 on Salween or Nu river, two on Indus and 11 on the Yarlung Tsangpo or Brahmaputra river.
Several river activists claim that these dams have resulted in water scarcity in several Asian countries, including India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia.
“The Makong river is virtually dead. China often uses water as a bargain chip,” Tanasak Phosrikun, a Mekong river activist from Thailand told IANS. The 4,900-km Mekong river passes through five countries and feeds around 70 million people.