Water Crisis: An Infographic Study of Water Scarcity in Indian Geography
Collaboratively written by: Aarushi Gupta and Vasudha Vasudev Infographics: Abhranil Munsi
Water, an easily available resource, is one of the important factors of our daily routine. But have we ever realised that what if this resource one day just vanishes from our lives? What will that day be like?
On average, we consume about 150 litres of water per person per day. Imagine what will happen if we are unable to get even a single bucket of water per family per day?
According to the recent studies by the federal government think tank NITI Aayog, 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater by 2020, including the capital New Delhi and India’s IT hub of Bengaluru. More than two hundred thousand Indians already die every year because of lack of safe water supply. This is not enough, the water crisis in India is a serious issue as 600 million people face “high to extreme” water stress today.
As a part of a community, it is extremely important to take a note of the Chennai incident where recently four lakes that is the main source of water have dried up, as a warning. The reports claim together they contain just 1% of the volume they had last year. The situation is so critical that the residents don’t have enough water for their domestic usage. Employees are working from home to minimise the water usage and even malls have closed their bathrooms.
It is important to understand that Water crisis in India or anywhere in the world is not a single problem but with itself, it carries full baggage of other issues such as poor sanitation, health epidemics, and even economic crisis.
Cities have grown tremendously post industrialisation. Cities have seen major pressure on resources. Most of the big economies such as United States of America, United Kingdom middle eastern or the Asian civilizations have not taken non-renewable resources into account in various economic studies because it is assumed to be abundant, and most of them don’t understand the implications of depleting resources might have on the pace of economic growth.
Hence, it is very important to now start protecting what is left with us now and analyse what are the major reasons for the water crisis.
If we start observing the city pattern, we see that most of the cities around a major water source, be it a sea, a river, a lake, reservoirs/dams, etc. And clearly, we have read about the glories of those cities where people used to respect these resources and work-out some means of saving/collecting or recharging those components.
Such water resources such as large tanks, reservoirs, Baolis or even swamps have played an important role in supplying water for domestic or even for agricultural purposes. These assets not only provided water but also acted as successful community spaces and centre of attraction. They were also an active source of groundwater recharge and absorbed excess rainwater to avoid urban flooding.
But as our economy grew, we as nations consider the development of built more important and have started to encroach upon these landmarks, as we considered these spaces as useless and potential sites for development. In the process, we in the past 5 decades, have built upon open space and the freshwater bodies, such as lakes, ponds, rivers, rivulets, and wetlands have encroached, and they have been overtaken by the built structures.
Encroachment of highlands, and water bodies, and not respecting the natural topography has led to flooding issues seen in cities, drying up of lakes or water bodies, etc.
But what has brought us to this situation?
Let's look at the case of Gurugram to understand how urbanisation has killed the natural water resources and what are the consequences the city is facing.
Case of Gurugram
Gurgaon was a small city with a few automobile companies having a few factories in Manesar. Post globalisation in the late ’90s and early 2000s the city started to grow haphazardly. No regards were paid to its natural contours, open spaces or the water bodies. Gurgaon was home to almost 100 odd lakes, rivulets, wetlands, drains, and rivers. The settlement which grew encroached the drains and small wetlands in the urge of development. As the IT industry boomed in the city, it further grew and started encroaching and ignoring these seasonal water bodies and built in the way of water flow.
This resulted in the stagnation of water as it had no way out, flooding on roads and settlements during heavy rains creating a high level of traffic jams and poor sanitation conditions in urban villages. It will be an injustice to just blame the foreign developers for this situation, the policymakers and the public servants are highly and equally in-charge for the same. In order to make money and portray their name, they easily converted those forest/ reserved or restricted areas into residential or commercial land use. They didn't even realise how by encroaching these spaces will harm the natural ecology of the city.
The figure below explains the growth pattern of the city and encroachment of greens. How the city blues were converted into greys.
Address of open spaces and green cover in the master plan Source: M.Arch(Urban design) Studio(2016-2018), Ansal University (Author)
Decrease in watersheds over 16 years Source: M.Arch(Urban design) Studio(2016-2018), Ansal University (Author)
Gurugram gets its water from the Yamuna river’s Tajewala headworks near Yamunanagar. The Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED) is responsible for supplying water to the old city area (municipal limits), while HUDA supplies to the new city. The HUDA sectors receive water directly from the Authority; the PHED gets bulk water transfers from HUDA for supply in the old city limits. Gurugram’s supply system is designed to carry about 245 million litres a day (MLD) at its head at Kakroi village. But about 50 percent of this water is lost through evaporation and diversion. Result: The river manages to meet only 30 percent of Gurugrams' water needs.
Gurugram has lost around 137 of its water bodies. It is projected that rejuvenation of some of the key water bodies and ponds can help Gurugram meet about 50 percent of its water needs. The Ghata Jheel alone has the potential of storing 12 billion litres – but only if its catchment is treated and encroachment is prevented. Village ponds can hold another 90 million litres. If a part of Aravalli is protected as a water sanctuary, it can harness yet another 21.6 billion litres. Such measures can contribute significantly to local water security in Gurugram.
In some cities, which were and are heavily dependent on the moderate rains, face drought. As the natural open spaces have been taken over, rainwater cannot seep into the ground, leading to depleting groundwater resources and flooding. Taking the case of Gurgaon, the city is likely to face groundwater depletion if there is further depletion of water bodies due to encroachment. According to official records, around 95 acres on which village ponds were located have now been used to set up high-rises. This, despite the fact that in Regional Plan 2021, relevant policies had been proposed to preserve water bodies. But nothing has been done as of now. In 1974 the groundwater level of Gurugram was 6.64 metres but it had reached an average of 27.05 metres by October 2015. The groundwater table has sunk to about 45 to 50 metres in parts of DLF City, Sohna Road and Sector 56 due to a high concentration of residential complexes. As a result, we see the city floods every monsoon creating jam-packed situations on highways.
In this issue, policymakers or the government are also answerable. It is very essential for the government individuals to make sure what they are developed by the name of urbanisation. In India, approximately 12 percent of the population is living the ‘Day Zero’ scenario as there’s no question on excessive groundwater pumping by the rich, no proper system for waste management and lack of knowledge on rainwater harvesting. There are loads of papers, files, reports lying on the table regarding water conservation but there’s no single initiative for saving the water.
So, its high time to look at some important measures to work out the water threat.
What is the way out?
Each of us could work on our part, with the government NGOs and public joining hands together wonders can be achieved. With each one having chalked out their goals and deliverables, this task will become easier and more achievable.
At the Central Level
● The government should have strict bylaws for the usage of groundwater.
● It should have stricter policing on borewells. They should keep a check by formulating teams for the same.
● Capacity building local public is a must, they must be taught the repercussions of depleting water resources.
● Creating infrastructure for saving rainwater and replenishing groundwater.
At Community Level
● Maintaining parks and other areas for water seepage into the ground
● Protecting any natural resource - lake/ pond/ seasonal river from getting dissolved in urbanisation
● Educating the people regarding rainwater harvesting and providing basic knowledge to do it.
At individual level
● One must start using water carefully.
● Stop wastage of water.
● Reuse and recycling of water resources.
Few solutions which could be implemented at multiple levels
Use of biophilic designs to generate water. Using nature's techniques into architecture, to develop a regenerative design and generate a circular economy, so that the built surface is self-sustaining is the need of the hour.
Stormwater should be considered a resource. Stormwater infrastructure should be developed and designed and be made a part of the urban landscape and it could provide recreational opportunities. It should be retained at source allowing it to infiltrate into the ground through aquifers and then flow gradually into water bodies.
A proper network of Drains
Hence, apart from a proper coverage of drainage systems and network, it is essential for directing runoff into surface water drainage systems is not the solution. It will eventually be overloaded, causing major floods.
In spatial planning, the focus should be diverted to lakes, floodplains, buffer or green areas. The surrounding vulnerable and watershed areas should not be neglected.
Our priority should be to:
● Protect all water bodies (lakes, ponds, and wetlands) that act as sponges in event of high rainfall, reduce the volume of rainwater runoff, which will lower the risk of flood and waterlogging
● Promoting rainfall infiltration into the soil at public places, including open areas in cities through elements of an urban landscape with designs of vegetated bioswale and bioretention systems.
With growing populations placing ever-greater demands on them, countries are fighting for resources such as food grains, oil, and water. Countries like Iran and Iraq remain under pressure to sell out their oil resources to big economies. Countries like Venezuela which were made rich by oil and has seen that wealth evaporate. India is a very fertile land, abundant resources, is facing a major crisis, in terms of water resources. when Capetown ran out of the water and had to declare a day zero, Niti Aayog released a report, on June 2018, mentions that in a country of 1.2 billion, almost 44 percent is dealing with water-related issues. 2lakh people lose their lives every year due to water-related issues. 84% of the population in villages have no access to tap water. By 2030, 40% of the population will have no access to clean water. India had almost 20 cities, namely Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, etc. were mentioned in their report, with Chennai being almost on the brink with no water left in 4 of its major reservoirs, the impending doom has already begun. It might be too late if we don't pay attention. It has been rightly said, “Water crisis is a man-made disaster not natural”. Hence, it is our responsibility to prevent the threat that we all are living in.