India’s Water Woes

Sustenance and safe existence in future largely depend on two factors – disaster resilience and ecological sensitivity. Thoughts on contemporary water issues in India.

Planet Outlook
Eklavya Prasad - August 27, 2021
India’s Water Woes

Being approached to pen my thoughts on contemporary water issues in India created a baffling dilemma while selecting the topic. I grappled for a long time with what to write. Ideas such as Bihar's exceptional performance in the country to provide rural tap water connections, Odisha's Puri becoming the first city in the country to ensure clean drinking water to its residents straight from the tap, contextualising Niti Aayog's report in today's context of how nearly half of India's population faces extreme water stress, and groundwater extraction and its contamination, were some that crossed my mind. In addition, the availability of water and the related consumption patterns for domestic, cultural, agricultural and industrial uses, along with the burgeoning of ecological insensitivities towards water also pointed at issues that require articulation. The list continued and so did my pursuit for a topical issue to write.

Not long ago, I started to read the recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which strongly iterates that climate change as a phenomenon is widespread, rapid and also intensifying. These claims have got manifested through frequent occurrences like intensifying of water cycle resulting in intense rainfall and flooding. Frequent and severe incidents of coastal flooding and coastal erosion. Influences of climate change with extreme footprints in the urban spaces, for instance, long spell of heat waves, and flooding from heavy precipitation events. The evidence of changing climate in rural and urban India, seized my attention. Coincidentally, today is the last day of the World Water Week (WWW) which was being celebrated from August 23, 2021, organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI). This annual event is continuing since 1991 with the intent to address the global water issues and concerns. The theme for the WWW 2021 is 'Building Resilience Faster' with the focus on definitive solutions to the global water-related challenges. Both, the IPCC report, and WWW 2021, provided me with the framework and hence the impetus to map the extreme events triggered by changing climate systems and stratified human actions and influences pan India. Additionally, these extreme events not only impact all services in the humanscape but repeatedly keep hurling new challenges as well. Therefore, the criticality of knowing about these extreme events.

Information from FloodList, South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, Veditum India Foundation, Megh Pyne Abhiyan  was collated along with my own experiences to write this piece. The intent is to showcase, first, the different extreme weather events that have occurred in India in 2021, and second, identify regions that have been severely affected. This will help in assimilating and assessing the trends for planning any future responses.

From January 13 till August 24, extreme weather events have been prevalent all across the country in varying character and disposition. 

 

Period

Event

States

(Parts of the state)

January 13

Flooding

Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu

February 07

Avalanche

Chamoli, Uttarakhand

May 12-17

Cyclone Tauktae

Kerala, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Lakshadweep and Daman & Diu

May 23 - 28

Cyclone Yaas

West Bengal and Odisha

June 09

Arrival of southwest monsoon with excessive rainfall

Mumbai

June 16

High rainfall in the upper catchment leading to riverine and flash floods

Uttar Pradesh and Bihar

June 20

Heavy rainfall in the upper catchment causing floods; Floods and severe weather

Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala

June 30

Overflowing rivers

Assam

July 2

Severe heat wave

Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan 

July 11

Severe weather particularly thunderstorms and lightening

Gujarat, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh

July 12

Heavy rains trigger floods and landslide

Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand

July 13

Heavy rainfall in rivers catchment leading to floods

Bihar

July 17

Intense rainfall leading to floods

Mumbai

July 22-24

Heavy rainfall leading to landslides and floods

Maharashtra

July 22

Heavy rainfall causing floods

Karnataka, Telangana and Goa

July 28

Cloudburst triggering flash floods

Jammu and Kashmir

August 02-03

Heavy rainfall leading to rivers breaching the banks and causing floods

Madhya Pradesh

August 03

Heavy rainfall and discharge from dams causing floods

West Bengal

August 03-05

Heavy rains leading to rivers flowing above danger levels and causing floods

Rajasthan

August 09

Excess rainfall in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and water released in River Chambal causing floods along with other rivers in space

Uttar Pradesh

August 10

Rivers flowing above the danger level coupled with rainfall

Uttar Pradesh

August  10-16

Major rivers across the state flowing above the danger levels along with high intensity rainfall causing inundation

Bihar

August 16-18

Floods

Assam

August 21

Highest single day rainfall since August 2007 causing waterlogging and inundation

Delhi

August 24

Flash Floods

Bihar

 

Barring March and April in past eight months, the country has witnessed severe weather conditions, its influence and impact on humanscape and ecology. Widespread devastation has been reported from rural, peri-urban and urban spaces including loss of human and livestock lives, damages - movable, immovable assets and infrastructure, loss of agricultural produce and land, loss of livelihoods, inaccessibility to essential services such as sanitation, drinking water, health and disruption of education etc. It must not be forgotten that all of these happened at the time of COVID. 

Given India’s multi-disaster profile and their varying impacts, it is necessary to contextualise resilience. Therefore, to understand and therefore create a road map for a disaster resilient future the disaster landscaping exercise must be undertaken. Regions and districts in the country are exposed to diverse weather events, hence the multiplicity of hazards affecting areas must be understood. In addition, areas within a region and district prone to a particular recurring weather event that are hugely impacting must be clearly highlighted. The identification of such areas will help with future planning for future interventions. It is critical to know about areas within the district affected by other extreme events other than the ones generally considered as the dominant one. Impact of not so frequent extreme weather events must also be taken into consideration.

Sustenance and safe existence in future largely depend on two factors – disaster resilience and ecological sensitivity. Therefore, all future activities planned and implemented will have to address the challenge posed by diverse extreme weather events and related impacts in context resilience and ecological sensitivity.

And this must be a collective effort.

 

Eklavya Prasad is a social development professional and a leading voice in water management. He is the founder and managing trustee of Megh Pyne Abhiyan