NOV 2019  
Special Report
Water Crisis in the Current Century : Holistic Approaches to Tackle the Problem

Without water, life on the Earth would not be possible. The Earth is abundantly supplied with water and yet there is a shortage of freshwater. Apparently, 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered with oceans and these contain 97.5 per cent of the total water available on the Earth. However, it is unfit for human consumption and other uses because of its high salt content. Of the remaining, only 2.5 per cent of the water supply on the Earth is freshwater. This freshwater is contained in rivers, lakes, and streams, in the polar ice caps or in glaciers high in the mountains. There is also plenty of water available in the groundwater reserves. The shortage of freshwater is threatening the functions of ecosystem and socioeconomic development. The freshwater is unevenly distributed over the Earth’s surface. The majority of countries with limited renewable water supplies are in the middle East, North America, Central Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa. But in all parts of the world, the availability of freshwater is declining at very rapid rate.

According to one of the reports as published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), there was a mention that the humanity’s use of freshwater soared six-fold over the last century and continues to rise. Demand is expected to increase by over a third over the next 25 years and to almost double for drinking water. And yet it is getting scarcer. Already one-third of the world’s people live in countries where water is in short supply; by 2025 two-thirds of them will do so.  

Highlighting the magnitude of this crisis, UNEP (2000) stated that aquifers of the underground water, built up over millennia, are being exploited faster than they can be replenished as every year 160 billion tonnes of water are being ‘mined’ in this way in China, India, North America, Saudi Arabia, and the US alone. The International Water Management Institute estimates that the depletion of Indian aquifers could cut the country’s grain harvest by a quarter. Meanwhile, international tensions over shared rivers are rising, threatening water wars.

Population Growth: A Major Threat

Population growth is one of the major reasons that contributes to the rise in the global demand for freshwater which will be problematic for many people by the year 2050. As an increasing number of people come up against environmental limits, real threats to the peace and stability of nations may arise. The only alternative is to accelerate programmes of sustainable development that meet basic human needs including water and, at the same time, provide the means and the incentives for stabilizing human population in the areas of greatest risk.

Water Quality Issues

The problems of water quality seriously affect the maximum amount of freshwater (45,000 km3) available annually on the Earth. The rivers have become open sewers. The growth of world population will exert tremendous pressure on the quality of the available freshwater reserves, leading to over-exploitation. Over-exploitation of groundwater resources has become evident in the absence of proper regulations to tap it as a common community resource. Urbanization and other land use patterns that hinder recharge of the rainwater into the water tables is becoming a serious problem. High use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and letting loose of untreated effluents and domestic sewage are affecting the quality of groundwater in many cities of the world. The organic loading of water bodies is enormous in all corners of the world due to gross inadequacy of domestic sewage treatment. Heavily industrialized cities of the world, such as Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Cairo, and Kolkata, are already notorious for their concern for the quality of water supplies.

Studies show that the squeeze on water resources will tighten as populations grow, demand increases, pollution continues, and global climate change accelerates. Mismanagement and shortage can generate competitions for water and as competition intensifies, further disagreements over access and use are likely to erupt. And unless properly managed, water scarcity can be a major source of strife, as well  as a roadblock to economic and  social progress.

World Scenario of  Water Crisis

Recent data sources show that Africa has 19 of the 25 countries that have the highest percentage of population without access to safe drinking water. Many countries in the Asia-Pacific region are situated in the world’s hazard belts of floods, droughts, cyclones, earthquakes, tidal waves and landslides, and inadequate water supplies emerged as important environmental concerns. In Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, groundwater is overexploited near 60 per cent of Europe’s industrial and  urban centres. 

Environmentally, the region of Latin America and the Caribbean is characterized by its immense hydrological systems such as the Amazon and the Rio de la Plata. The large quantities of agricultural and other contaminants are discharged to streams that flow in the Caribbean, resulting in pollution from phosphorus, nitrates,  and pesticides.

Canada and the United States are concerned with implications of their resource use and the main underlying cause of environmental concern has been rapid economic growth. Throughout North America, campaigns to save resources led to stricter rules in some communities. North American households use twice as much water as European households but pay half as much for it. While, 2.4 million rural Americans are badly in need of a source of safe drinking water; one million are without piped water at all, and supplies to a further 5.6 million do not meet safe drinking water standards.

India as an Example of Water Stressed Nation

Back home in India, the annual water availability per capita in 1947 was over 5000 m3, which has currently dropped to 2200 m3 per year. The world figure is however 8500 m3. As per the UNEP criteria, stress situation is approached when water availability declines to 1700 m3 per year per capita. Occurrence of water availability at about 1000 m3 per year per capita is commonly taken as the level of absolute scarcity. India’s renewable water resources are only about 4 per cent of the global availability. The human intervention on the rivers along with agricultural and industrial activities caused widespread pollution and scarcity of both surface and groundwater. In the absence of a proper water storage and conservation strategy, 70 per cent of the riverine flows still go to the sea. In the last decade of 20th century, per capita water availability in India has been shrinking owing to growing demand from all sectors, poor demand management as well as poor management of water resources. Scientists have warned that the steady decline in the per capita availability of India will put the country in the red list of ‘water stressed’ nations very soon, that is, by the year 2025.

Instruments That Can Address the Problem

Many countries now use   economic instruments to reduce industrial water pollution. Important amongst them are charge systems (charge for pollution, environmental impacts, etc.), fiscal instruments (taxes on pollution, resource, land use, etc.) and financial instruments (like loans, grants, subsidies, revolving funds, green funds, etc.).

UNEP emphasized that effective policy setting for sustainable development requires a blend of policy instruments that addresses the social fabric of life, ensures effective institutional arrangement, improve the economy and protects the environment. But UNEP further argues that in many countries institutions are still weak and not adequately equipped to implement their functions. Those shortcomings stem from many factors, including a serious shortage of skilled staff, lack of training facilities, and counterproductive government policies and legislation.

The regional environmental policies which are different, emphasize on cooperation at regional and  sub-regional levels.

The most common policy instruments in Asia and the Pacific are command-and-control measures and strategic environmental planning. Europe and CIS countries have established substantial environment funds with income from pollution charges and taxes. These funds can be used only for  environmental purposes.

Based on the regional reports, global action on freshwater is immediately required. According to a reliable data source, water availability will be problematic for many people by the year 2050 as many developing countries will lag behind the average. Nor will these global improvements occur without investments in social and environmental development of the kind that has taken place in industrial countries. Healthy food and clean water are preconditions of the United Nations goal of health for all.

Strategic Principles for Sustainable Development of Water

In 1992, a number of strategic principles were formulated for management of water reserves at the United Nations World Conference in Rio de Janeiro. Important amongst them are as follows:

  • The problem needs to be tackled in an integrated approach both for surface water and groundwater—both quantity and quality.
  • Priority needs to be given to the fulfilment of basic human needs as well as the protection of ecosystems.
  • Awareness should be made that water is an inseparable part of the ecosystem and a social and economic resource. Also, water is a finite natural resource, which has an economic value, with important social and economic implications connected with the fulfilment of basic needs.
  • Users should be charged a reasonable amount to encourage the practice to save water.
  • Attention needs to be paid to involving the local communities, particularly women for their practical role in the management of freshwater.
  • Structural sources of finance for the ecological restoration of water are required for sustainable management of freshwater supplies.

Approaches That Could Be Adopted

The following approaches could be adopted additionally for sustainable water management at global level:

  • For international conflicts on water resources, dialogues and agreements need to be made at global level not only for water quality but also for management and distribution of the available freshwater.
  • Higher water price can play a crucial role in improving the efficiency of water use and optimize the allocation of freshwater to the various social and economic sectors.
  • Better use of the available water requires an international cooperation in which approach should be made at river basin level.
  • The population growth particularly in a developing country is the major factor of concern for the problem of water scarcity, which needs the programmes and incentives for stabilizing human population in the areas of greatest risk at first.
  • Scarce sources of freshwater must be used primarily to meet people’s basic needs as well as to preserve the ecosystem.
  • Precious water of rivers of tropical rainforests should not be used for creating reservoirs and energy supply.
  • International tension over shared rivers which are now raising and threatening water wars should be solved by positive intervention of the United Nations.
  • Educational programmes and public participation should be taken up to create awareness amongst people at large.
  • Additionally, the following spatial management principles need to be taken into consideration and consequent implementation:
  • Conserve the water where it falls.
  • Earmark suitable space for detaining seasonal water so as to increase the time and area of contact with the soil so as to increase the amount of water             that enters the aquifers.
  • Recognize that the groundwater reservoir forms the most economic means of storage and supply as well.
  • Develop groundwater sanctuaries through creation and preservation of storages.

Dr Anil Pratap Singh, General Secretary and Founder Director, Global Science Academy (GSA), Basti, Uttar Pradesh, India.

© TERI 2020

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in India’s CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that “CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.”

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to [email protected]

Matt Carr
+44 (0) 20 7375 7248
[email protected]