India has 16% of the Global Population but Only 4% of Total Water Resources, Resulting in Water Scarcity in Many Regions

Rating B

Water supply is not only necessary to sustain human life, but is also a key input to many industries such as manufacturing and agriculture. Therefore, the conservation and optimal utilisation of this scarce resource is extremely important for economic development. While India has about 16% of the global population, it only has 4% of total water resources, and many parts of India already face water scarcity.

India is rich in biodiversity still dotted by large swathe forests and has 20 river basins. Due to increasing demand for domestic, industrial and agriculture usage, most river basins in India are increasingly getting water stressed, witnessing plummeted levels, further accentuated by the fact that water demand is unevenly distributed across the country.

India’s dependence on an increasingly erratic monsoon for its water requirements increases this challenge. Climate change is likely to exacerbate this pressure on water resources, even as the frequency and intensity on floods and droughts in the country increases. [].

It is worth mentioning that the groundwater plays an important role in India’s economy. It caters to about 85% of rural demand, 50% urban requirements and more than 60% of nation’s irrigation needs. Unregulated groundwater extraction has led to its overuse in many parts of the country, causing the groundwater table to plummet to worrying levels, drying springs and aquifers.

Water data shows that the annual groundwater draft in India is 245 BCM, which accounts for about 62% of the net water available. Of this, 91% was used for irrigation. However, the effects on groundwater in different regions of the country have not been uniform. The situation is alarming in regions where groundwater exploitation exceeds replenishment. States like Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan now draw more water than is annually replenished. Several places in Rajasthan and Haryana have a high salt concentration in groundwater, which makes it not potable.

Agriculture sector consumes the largest amount (over 85%) of India’s water. This consumption of water would escalate further with pressure from industrialisation and urbanisation. Events like droughts, heavy rains, unseasonal rains, hail storms, floods, etc. are on the rise due to climate change and have impacted Indian economy adversely.

Climate Change Impacts on Water Resources in India Report states that the hydrological cycle here is predicted to be more intense, with higher annual average rainfall as well increased drought. There is a predicted increase in extreme rainfall and rainfall intensity in Krishna, Godaveri and Ganga river basins towards the end of the 21st century while the Godavari river basin is projected to have higher precipitation than the other two with intensity of daily rainfall also predicted to increase. With changes in the number of rainy days predicted with results indicating decreases in the western parts of the Ganga basin, but with increases over most parts of the Godavari and Krishna basins. Thus the surface water availability shows a general increase over all 3 basins (though future populations projections would need to be considered to project per capita water availability). []

Demands for water in the country are steadily rising. With growing pressures due to climate change, migration and population growth, creative and imaginative governance is needed to manage this precious resource. Incidentally, our country is endowed with vast seawater resources covering large parts for over a dozen of states and union territories. Ensuring purified seawater supply to dedicated network would help people immensely.

A few sea water supply effort have come up in states like Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, AP, Gujarat, etc. However, the country needs a development strategy utilising seawater in the coastal region to be formulated quickly. The solar and wind energy available in abundance in the region should form as alternative sources of fuel for the purpose and falling prices will considerably reduce the production cost. The financing of setting up purification plants in the region may be shared by the central government, state governments, local bodies and private operators.

Indian government has been aware of the seriousness of the water resources and set up a Ministry of Irrigation to manage water resources. Over years, the situation changed and water resources began to be seen through the lens of climate and environmental perspectives. Subsequently, National Water Resources Council was set up in 1987 under the chairmanship of the Indian prime minister announcing the National Water Policy in the same year. Later on in 1996-97, Federal government launched Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Program to provide assistance to sub regions with an estimated cost of USD 5 billion. Finally, a national Water Policy 2002 was promulgated by the central government further revising it in 2012. At the sub regions’ levels, a variety of water related projects continue to be carried out with support from the World Bank.

The Indian constitutional framework stipulates the water and water resources is a state subject, there is a significant amount of domestic politics between and among states (sub-regions) themselves on the one hand and between the Federal government and their sub-regions on the other, including being a predominant election issue as well.

Given that the country has a large population of nearly 1.5 billion people to make water available to them on a day to basis with policies, programs and financial resources allocations, the task is not a small one by any standards. However India has not seen any unmanageable situation on ground with most part of the nation under adequate water resourcing has stood the test of the time.

There is always a need for better planning and coordination by the federal government and sub regions  to direct their attention on retrofitting water resources infrastructure in rural and semi-urban areas including in housing and real estate sectors through climate friendly practices such as rainwater harvesting and greening of cities to cool the climate aimed at better management of water resources in a fast changing climate change landscape.

The Indian government with its plans, policies and programs in preventing and adopting to climate related water issues has been highly effective but more work is needed to keep the pace and momentum on.

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard India Country Manager Pooran Chandra Pandey


Climate Scorecard depends on support from people like you.

We are a team of researchers providing information on efforts to reduce global emissions. We help make you better informed and able to advocate for improved climate change efforts. Donations of any amount are welcome.