India’s water management challenge
06.07.2018

India’s water management challenge

The Indian Leaders Programme analyses and explains how some issues common to the two countries are faced in Spain

With over 1.3 billion people, India is the world’s second most populated country. 850 million live in rural areas, and the country’s climate alternates dry and very humid spells (monsoons). This climate is one of the most heavily threatened by climate change: apart from rainfall, the main source of water for India’s main rivers are glaciers in the Himalayas, threatened by global warming.

Optimal water management is therefore a priority for India. In 2016, 300 million Indians suffered heavy water shortages after two monsoons that were weaker than usual. According to AQUASTAT (FAO's global water information system), India uses 1,431 cubic metres per person per year (the equivalent to one and a half Olympic pools). In Spain, the average is 2,390 m³ (almost two and a half Olympic pools). As stated by trade media outlet iAgua, “if the latest climate trends are a source of concern in Spain, population 46 million, the forecasts are even more worrying in India with 1.3 billion.”

The water-related aspects of greatest concern in India are, on the one hand, access to drinking water and sanitation and, on the other, water management for agricultural use.

Regarding sanitation and access to drinking water, the Observatory for the Human Right to Water and Sanitation of the University Institute for Development and Cooperation (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) states that “over 50 million people suffer illnesses in India caused by polluted water and about two million children die every year” for that very reason.

In order to avoid this, the Observatory indicates that it is necessary to “put an end to underground water pollution and eutrophication (excessive growth of algae due to waste accumulation) in rivers and lakes, as well as to implement public services to guarantee access to quality water and sanitation for everyone.”

The importance of this measure is far from new - Mahatma Gandhi said over fifty years ago that “sanitation is more important than independence.” In order to achieve this, education is just as important – even more so, in fact – than quality facilities. The Vicente Ferrer Foundation emphasises the importance of changing attitudes towards the proper use of toilets, which varies broadly between genders and age groups.

Regarding agriculture, a report by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) estimates that close to 90% of all the water available in India is used for agricultural purposes and makes a connection between water, energy, food and climate change.

This issue is a priority for the Indian Government, which launched a National Action Plan on Climate Change in 2010 especially focused on water resources, agriculture and forestry. Since 2014, Narendra Modi’s Government has stepped up efforts in this area, paying special attention to the cleaning of rivers and the use of renewable energies.

There are other players working in this area. We Are Water and Vicente Ferrer, for instance, work together to carry out projects related to solar energy and water use: drip irrigation systems, rainwater harvesting, aquifer recovery and water harvesting infrastructure, among others.

The WBCSD report also provides a set of actions that could contribute to improving the situation of water resources in India, on which some companies have already begun working: growing more environment-appropriate crops; smart management of harvests and sustainable use of fertilisers; mixed crops systems; efficient management of rivers and aquifers; efficient management of rainwater; energy efficiency in farm equipment and mechanisation; revenue improvement in crops; efficient and sustainable production of fertilisers; improvement of the marketing system and reduction of waste and produce loss during storage.

Throughout the Indian Leaders Programme, the participants had the chance to witness how some of the issues common to Spain and India are handled in Spain, to express their opinions about the actions underway in India and to point out cooperation opportunities for companies and institutions in the two countries.

Report: 6th Indian Leaders Programme 2018

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