India’s ‘manmade’ water crisis can incite more conflicts: Assocham

July 28th, 2008 - 4:38 pm ICT by IANS  


By Rajeev Ranjan Roy
New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) The water crisis staring at India is manmade, could get more complex and lead to more interstate conflicts if prompt measures are not taken to tackle the problem, warns a study by a leading industry lobby. “Conflicts over water mirror are the most vexing changes country is facing,” said D.S. Rawat, secretary-general of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham), which prepared the report.

“The competing demands of urban and rural areas, the stubborn divide between the rich and poor, interstate differences and the balance between the needs of a thriving economy and a fragile environment are just a few examples,” he said.

The study said while India has made progress in the supply of safe water to the people, there is gross disparity in coverage across the country. It said water was also contributing to India’s inflation, now at 11.89 percent.

“India’s water crisis is predominantly a manmade problem. Extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption, and industrial and human waste have caused this water supply crunch,” the Assocham secretary-general said.

He said a rapidly growing economy and a large farm sector stretch India’s supply of water even thinner.

According to the study, 30 percent of India’s rural population lacks access to drinking water and of the 35 states in India, only seven have full availability of drinking water for rural inhabitants.

“Increased demand for clean water…is contributing to rising food prices. The world’s scarcity of clean water is widely known, yet it’s still one of the cheapest commodities in the world,” the report said.

“The country’s high population density, space and time variability of rainfall, increasing depletion and contamination of its surface and groundwater resources have worsened the crisis.”

The study also claimed that the water subsidy system, instead of improving the situation, has instead created acute problems. But it did not elaborate how.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that diarrhoeal diseases, frequently associated with contaminated water, account for five percent of India’s disease burden, and 11 percent of its communicable disease burden.

“Largely for lack of clean water, 2.1 million children under the age of five die each year,” the study said.

India receives an average of 4,000 billion cubic metres of rainfall every year; only 48 percent ends up in its rivers.

“Due to lack of storage and crumbling infrastructure, only 18 percent can be utilised. Rainfall is confined to the monsoon season, June through September, when India gets, on average, 75 percent of its total annual precipitation,” the report said.

India possesses about 432 billion cubic metres of groundwater replenished yearly from rain and river drainage; about 395 billion cubic metres are utilised.

Of this, 82 percent is used for irrigation, the rest for domestic and industrial purposes, the report added.

Despite the large amount of water used for agriculture, only about 50 million hectares are irrigated of the 182.7 million hectares used for cultivation in India.

The report says there was distinct lack of attention to water legislation, recycling, infrastructure, public-private partnerships and incentives to promote water conservation.

“Conflicts over water mirror the most vexing changes the country is facing. The competing demands of urban and rural areas, the stubborn divide between rich and poor, inter-state differences and the balance between the needs of a thriving economy and a fragile environment are just a few examples,” it said.

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