MAY 2020  
Green Challenges
COVID-19 in a Water-Stressed Nation: The Challenges and Solutions

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6 aims to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation to all and we are still far behind to reach this target by 2030. Additionally, the Government of India launched its flagship programme on access to functional tap water in 2019—Jal Jeevan Mission with an aim to provide access of safe drinking water to each and every household in the country by 2024. Statistics show that by March 31, 2020, only 20.81 per cent of rural households have received functional household tap connections. In cities also, there are many areas or unauthorized colonies which do not get tap water. There is an everyday struggle to fetch water from common taps or tankers. India, a water-stressed nation with per capita annual availability of 1441 cubic metres in 2015 is soon proceeding towards water scarcity (1100 cubic metres), and therefore needs to manage its resources judiciously.

During the present coronavirus pandemic, where we are advised to wash hands frequently and that too for a minimum of 20 seconds, do these figures support our fight against this enemy? The average flow rate of a household tap is 4-6 litres per minute (lpm), and considering a person washing hands for at least 6 times a day, leads to a consumption of 9-10 litres. A simple initiative of closing the tap while not in use can reduce this usage; such simple steps undertaken at an individual level can bring about a change which is much needed to face such critical situations. Moreover, people have started to sanitize and disinfect their homes more often than the usual which would have an additional impact on the demand. Probably we would overcome this pandemic but it does leave us with some important lessons to be prepared for another unprecedented event.

Another important aspect from the point of view of water demand is that it increases rapidly during the peak summer months; looking at the current situation, the domestic water demand is growing in the months before the peak season which may affect the limited reserves available for the upcoming months. This may lead to a more vulnerable situation for the upcoming summer months. If the current situation of the pandemic does not improve, people will have to move out from their homes to fetch water which may defy the need for social distancing.

The other side of the story is the wastewater which is coming out from the households in cities that may have higher amount of chemicals such as disinfectants. This wastewater and the grey water is expected to have different composition than usual because of the use of disinfectants in recent months. Another challenge faced by our nation would be the safe disposal of wastewater with poor wastewater infrastructure present in the country.

Currently, the challenge for the government is to combat the COVID-19 pandemic which might trigger the upcoming challenge of rising water demands during peak summer months, which is another challenge for the government. The stressed water resource will make people more vulnerable in the coming months when the demand will continually rise. During the summer season in 2019, Chennai in Tamil Nadu faced acute water crises in which the major water bodies dried up due to failed monsoons in the previous two years leaving people with no water to drink. Every summer there is demand supply gap and the resources are continuously depleting. For example, the city of Hyderabad had a gap of 130 millions of gallons per day (MGD) in 2018 which needs to be addressed for providing access to water for all. It was also observed that this gap further increases as the demand increases in the consequent years (2021 and 2024) while the supply remains the same. The increase in water demand over the years can be directly linked to the increase in population in Hyderabad and its surrounding areas. Moreover, in 2019, as per the NITI Aayog report, 21 cities in India will run out of their groundwater resources. Therefore, it is likely that by the time government is able to combat the pandemic, another challenge is already waiting in the wings to grab attention. 

Water is a basic requirement and situation like this has taught us the importance of this pristine resource. We need to be well prepared now before any other calamity affects us. We have targets to align ourselves to but there are simple steps that need to be taken at the earliest for ensuring better preparedness. Even the changing climate needs us to be more efficient in managing the resources and coronavirus pandemic is giving us some hard lessons.

There is a need to conserve water at both macro and micro levels. Governments have their programmes for conserving water—National Water Mission, Integrated Watershed Management Programme, and so on. But at micro level each individual needs to take responsibility by taking small measures at their level like installing water-efficient faucets and fixtures, dual flushing systems, closing taps whenever not in use, reusing wastewater wherever possible, undertaking rainwater harvesting at households, institutional buildings, and so on.

The pandemic has led to closure of the industries which has lowered the water consumption and the wastewater generated from them that has helped in improving the water quality of the rivers to some extent. But as soon as the situation comes back to normal, all things shall run in the same manner as before. Therefore, industries can look for options of updating/upgrading their technologies which are water efficient apart from other interventions, such as wastewater reuse and recycle as well as zero liquid discharge (ZLD) systems, rainwater harvesting, groundwater recharge, and plugging of leakages.

Further, in the domestic sector as well, there are huge leakages and losses and the focus of urban local bodies (ULBs) should be on reducing them. These water delivery systems are very inefficient due to several reasons including improper operation and maintenance, lack of revenue generation (poor metering, low tariff), and most significantly, wastage due to leakage and pilferage, and so on. Nearly 40 per cent of the total flow in the distribution system is lost on account of water loss through leakages in main pipes, communication and service pipes, and leaking valves. A leak detection system should be in place so as to curb or minimize these losses.

The agriculture sector is the largest water consumer but the least efficient in both conveyance and application, mainly due to the practices followed by the farmers and ageing infrastructure. There is a need to be more efficient so as to have minimum impact in situations like the present pandemic. The use of efficient irrigation practices and technologies such as micro-irrigation system (drip and sprinkler systems), mulching, laser levelling, ICT-based operation, etc. can help to reduce the water demand in this sector and enhance water use efficiency.

We, therefore, need to strengthen our water and wastewater infrastructure to fight against such situations (like the current pandemic of coronavirus). This will not only improve the treatment facility in the country but help in curbing the indirect transfer of diseases. Moreover, there is a need to move from centralized to de-centralized options which are able to provide customizable solution. Each individual has a role to play in improving the water situation in the country. Further, there is also a need to expedite the progress towards the set targets for Jal Jeevan Mission and be better prepared for any challenges
in the future. 

Ms Niyati Seth is Research Associate, WRPM, TERI, New Delhi and Ms Sonia Grover is Fellow, WRPM, TERI, New Delhi.

© 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]