Scientists not satisfied with India's water mgmt

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Agartala, Oct 3: Experts have expressed concern over India's water resource management strategies while suggesting stopping work on the proposed river linking project and instead emphasise on making people aware of the optimum use of fresh water.

''Fresh water is mainly used in India in the agricultural sector, especially rice, and scientists have been trying to adopt less water-based production,'' Dr Biksham Gujja, renowned water scientist told the sources here today.

The Switzerland-based scientist is also Policy Advisor of Global Water Issues and Partnerships at the WWF International Global Fresh Water Programme.

Dr Gujja pointed out that they were not at all impressed with the water resource management approaches being practised in the country by constructing dams and the recent project of interlinking the river.

''We believe such plans will give rise to conflicts for water among the states as well as communities and neighbouring nations because the crisis of fresh water will become more severe across the world in the next two decades and interlinking of major surface water sources and construction of dams will lead to inequality of water distribution,'' Dr Gujja opined.

He also stated that besides surface water pollution, arsenic, iron and fluoride contamination in ground water in major parts of India had already aggravated the situation while misuse and wastage of fresh water was posing a serious threat to the developing nations with India being at the top of the list.

''Since the maximum amount of water is required in rice cultivation and also because rice feeds almost 90 per cent of the population, we have suggested the agronomists and policy makers to go for System Rice Intensification (SRI) method of production, which requires minimum water, fertilisers and seeds,'' Dr Gujja underlined.

He said about 44 million hectares of land in 500 districts out of the 600-odd districts of India had already come under rice production but most of the Indian states were still dependent on Punjab and Haryana.

Referring to the strategic plan, Dr Gujja said scientists were motivating small and marginal rice producers to adopt SRI method of cultivation - ''nothing technical or costly, just make a conceptual change of process, which needs one-fifth amount of seeds, water and land than normal production.'' According to estimates, about Rs 20,000 crore additional money would be required to adopt the SRI method of rice cultivation and that could be managed only if the construction of any more dams in the country was stopped.

''The policy makers should understand that we can create more water bodies to store rain water but we cannot increase the natural fresh water by constructing dams or linking rivers and obstructing their natural flow,'' he said.

Quoting the UN climate panel report, Dr Gujja pointed out that global warming might melt 80 per cent of the Himalayan glacial cover and leave India thirsting for freshwater by 2030--the regional impact of rising temperatures, widely blamed on emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels. He said the annual per capita availability of freshwater in India was expected to drop from around 1,900 cubic metres to 1,000 cubic metres by 2025 due to population growth and climate change.

More than two billion people worldwide would be living in regions facing water scarcity by the next two decades and it was a particularly acute crisis in India, as millions of Indians currently do not even get safe drinking water, with the situation getting worse by the day, he said.

Forecasting the water scenario, Dr Gujja said India's status demand for water was growing at an alarming rate as currently it had the world's second largest population, which was expected to overtake China's by 2050 reaching a staggering 1.6 billion. The growing economy and large agricultural sector would stretch India's water supply even more.

Meanwhile, the country's water supply was dwindling rapidly due primarily to mismanagement of water resources, although over-pumping and pollution were also significant contributors. Climate change was expected to exacerbate the problem by causing erratic and unpredictable weather, which could drastically diminish the water supply from rainfall and glaciers.

As the demand for potable water starts to outstrip supply by increasing amounts in coming years, India will face a slew of subsequent problems, such as food shortages, intrastate and international conflicts, he warned.

India's water crisis was predominantly a manmade problem because of extremely poor management, unclear laws, government corruption.

Besides, industrial and human waste had caused this water supply crunch and rendered the available water practically useless due to pollution.

According to statistics, in 2006, between the domestic, agricultural, and industrial sectors, India used approximately 829 billion cubic meters of water every year, which was approximately the size of Lake Erie and by 2050, the demand was expected to double and consequently exceed the 1.4 trillion cubic meters of supply available.

Population growth would also accelerate the water crisis in India, especially as more and more people moved into the cities and became part of the middle class. Because the rivers are too polluted to drink and the government is unable to consistently deliver freshwater to the cities, many urban dwellers were turning to groundwater, which was depleting the underground aquifers.

At the same time, rural people were also facing similar crisis and currently 30 per cent of the rural population were not getting safe drinking water. Of the 28 states in India, only seven could provide drinking water to rural inhabitants. Most people who live in rural areas require less water for day-to-day activities than people living in cities and the majority of their water demand was for the agricultural sector.


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