India’s Water Crisis – Is There a Solution?

By FLOW Policy Intern Meredith Murray


India is no stranger to the impacts of climate change. Hotter than average temperatures and variability in rains have increased throughout the years. With a country of over 1.2 billion inhabitants – the second largest population in the world, with China being number one –and a major exporter of crops such as basmati rice, the country cannot afford to be dealing with a lack of water or an uncontrollable excess of water. Last year alone, 2,000 lives were claimed in the southern state Andhra Pradesh and Telagana in May by extreme heat. In November 2015, over 10,000 acres of crops were destroyed by major flooding in Andhra Pradesh, costing around $190 million.

India is the highest water user in the world according to the Water Footprint Network (WFN), but has less than average water usage when looked at per capita. So where is the water going and how is being used?

Agriculture accounts for 90% of water usage with only 5% going towards domestic use and 5% industrial. India’s primary water source is groundwater. But with the increasing population, economic growth, and water consumption, groundwater sources are depleting faster than they can be restored. And there is a lack of local knowledge on how water can be managed efficiently.

Roughly 22% of the population are rural agriculture farmers. With the impacts of drought causing insufficient harvests, many Indian farmers are moving to cities with the hopes of finding a better job, and sometimes resort to committing suicide.

Awareness about water issues is increasing, but translating this into action is progressing slowly. Solutions to managing water responsibly need to involve everyone. There is a need for individuals to be re-educated on traditional methods of farming, and knowledge by businesses and households about how to use water responsibly.

In February and March 2016, I had the opportunity to do an internship with an Indian based NGO called The Water Literacy Foundation (WLF) in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India. The organization specializes in providing sustainable water management practices to an array of customers – from major industries such as ACC Cement (India’s largest cement manufacturer) to rural village farmers. WLF’s solution is simple – collect and store rainwaterA few examples include rooftop rainwater harvesting and lake-type borewell recharging techniques.

Borewells are deep wells that extract water from underground aquifers and vary in depth. However, when a borewell dries up it is common practice to just drill another one. This excessive drilling of borewells is causing India’s groundwater supply to drastically decrease. A solution to this is relatively simple. Create a manmade lake to store rainwater next to the borewell with a sand and stone wall surrounding the borewell to filter the lake water. When it rains the lake is filled, and water is filtered through the sand and stone into the borewell, providing a sufficient water supply.

Rooftop rainwater harvesting is another adaptable technique that can implemented in villages and cities. Major cities in India like Mumbai are making rooftop rainwater harvesting mandatory on newly constructed residential and commercial buildings. Collecting rainwater allows individuals to be self-sufficient. Water is a public right and people should not have to worry about water being privatized and viewed as a commodity in water scarce regions. WLF is ensuring the right to water through its awareness-building programs and services.

You can read more about the Water Literacy Foundation and its founder here.


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By FLOW Policy Intern Meredith Murray