Water Crisis in India – Issues, Causes, and Consequences

Water Crisis in India – Issues, Causes, and Consequences

What Is A Water Crisis in India?

A water crisis in India generally means the insufficient availability of drinking water, lack of sufficient available water resources to meet the demands of water usage within a region.  A water crisis is a situation where the available potable, unpolluted water within a region is less than that region’s demand.

Water Crisis in India

What is the present situation?

  1. India’s most water-stressed blocks are in Tamil Nadu (541), followed by Rajasthan (218), Uttar Pradesh (139), and Telangana (137), with several states reeling under drought-like conditions.
  2. Due to poor monsoon in the month of June, the Central Water Commission said the water level in 92 major reservoirs was about 17% of their live storage capacity
  3. As per Niti Aayog – nearly 600 million Indians already face “high to extreme water stress. It said 21 cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people. 
  4. As per the Niti Aayog water crisis will lead to a loss of 6% in GDP by 2050.
  5. India is placed at 120th position among 122 countries in terms of poor water condition
  6. This kind of use has caused a reduction in groundwater levels in India by 61 percent between 2007 and 2017, according to report by Central Ground Water Board (CGWB), presented in the Lok Sabha last year.


  1. Rapid deforestation – will lead to a fall in rainfall and also decrease in check dams created by these trees which helps in recharging groundwater.
  2. Increasing urbanization and industrialization has led to a rise in demand for water supply resulting in a declining groundwater level.
  3. India extracts more groundwater than China and the US the next two biggest pullers of groundwater – combined. 
  4. Groundwater forms the majority share of agriculture and water supply-demand.
  5. Luxurious consumption of water in Urban areas. Megacities like Delhi and Mumbai get more that than the standard municipal water norm of 150 liters per capita per day (LPCD) while others get 40-50 LPCD.
  6. Loss of traditional water harvesting system due to demands of rising population and liberal implementation of town planning rules.
  7. Chennai that is facing acute water shortage had nearly two dozen water bodies and wetlands but most of them are out of use today.


  1. Death of more than 2,00,000 people annually due to non-availability of potable water
  2. Rift among states and societal fights have now become daily chorus
  3. Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems, especially because approx 53% of Agriculture in India is rain-fed.
  4. Niti Aayog Database says 54% of wells in India are declining in level due to unsustainable withdrawals for irrigation.
  5. Poor or low water supply for agriculture -> poor crop production-> rising cases of farmer suicides.
  6. Non-availability of water ponds or other water bodies leads to lakhs of animals and birds dining annually.

Steps Taken

  1. Jal Shakti Abhiyan – 
  2. Renaming the Water Ministry as Jal Shakti Ministry to create awareness. And for an integrated approach to water conservation and management with the aim of providing piped water to every rural home by 2024.
  3. The NRDWP’s objectives and goals were to provide adequate and safe drinking water on a sustainable basisIndia’s Water Challenges

India’s most water-stressed blocks are in Tamil Nadu (541), followed by Rajasthan (218), Uttar Pradesh (139), and Telangana (137), with several states reeling under drought-like conditions.

Major Challenges to Water Crisis in India

  1. The key to overcoming the impending water crisis is adequate and reliable data, which remains a big challenge.
  2. It is estimated that around 40 percent of piped water in India is lost to leakage.
  3. Making water available for a rising population, we are to become the world’s most populated country I near future 
  4. Further increasing demand in Urban areas due to luxurious pattern of water consumption
  5. A 2018 World Bank report also said there was a direct link between the availability of water and poverty, quoting a study in India that estimated poverty rates to be higher by 9-10 percent in districts where groundwater tables were below 8 meters.
  6. Water is also an important component of the dietary pattern of any human being. Which seems to be get compromised now.
  7. As much 98 percent of water-related schemes, including piped water schemes, continue to be based on groundwater with little attention being paid to use surface water.

Various states like Assam, Nagaland, Uttarakhand, and Meghalaya have the lowest Index scores. The reason behind such scores is neglect in terms of water management and policy action, and limited availability of monetary resources for investment at the same time. 

Odisha has exhibited the largest drop. In a single year, the state has dropped to fourth place.

Chennai Case Study

Chennai is a classic case of mismanagement of water resources. Taps have gone dry here, and other parts of Tamil Nadu, as it faces one of the worst summers this year. Due to the water shortagepolitical instability is also increasing along with cold wars between states in India being underway. 

(The Puzhal reservoir in Chennai, India, in April 2018 and April 2019.)

Chennai floods were a clear manifestation of poor management of water resources and added to that encroachment of building s and corporate areas over the traditional water harvesting system. The recent crisis has already led to interstate rift between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Further the locals are also not liking to communicate with the other state’s people. 

This case shows us how disastrous it can be the consequences of water shortage despite India numerically being a water surplus economy.

Tamil Nadu is one of the states of India which practices rainwater harvesting. But now it has been the first Indian state where rainwater harvesting has been mandatory.

Way Ahead

  1. Need of great awareness regarding the looming water crisis. The way we are talking about the Air Pollution problem, the water crisis would also get similar attention.
  2. Building up a data repository on water crisis and water availability. The Niti Aayog says data systems related to water in the country are limited in their coverage, robustness, and efficiency.
  3. The World Health Organisation prescribes 25 liters of water for one person a day to meet all basic hygiene and food needs. We need to think about this.
  4. India captures only eight percent of its annual rainfall – which is among the lowest in the world. We need to brace up our water harvesting system to utilize the wasted potential of our water festival -Monsoon.
  5. Reuse of household water, which otherwise flows directly to drains.
  6. Taking ideas and help from desert topography country – Israel. Israel treats 100 percent of its used water and recycles 94 percent of it back to households. More than half of irrigation in Israel is done using reused water.
  7. Rain Water Harvesting
  8. Renovation and revival of traditional water bodies and tanks
  9. Reuse of water and recharge structures
  10. Watershed Development
  11. Intensive Afforestation
  12. Groundwater Recharging

Legal Backing to Water

  1. Easement Act of 1882 gives every landowner the right to collect and dispose of groundwater and surface water within his/her own limits is still in operation. his law makes regulation of water usage by a person on his/her land.
  2. Waterfalls under the state list of the Constitution meaning only the state governments can frame a regulatory law.

Steps to be taken by the Government to address Water Crisis in India

  1. The government needs to seriously take action in educating the public on proper uses of water, and people also need to concern themselves about the dangers of wasting water.
  2. The government of India must concentrate on managing demand. They must ensure a timely, leak-proof, and safe water supply rather than promising 24 hours supply based on nothing.
  3. Controlling the water consumption at irrigation level is the most important factor as it consumes 85% of groundwater without inflicting the food security of the country.
  4. Water literacy at the national level should be the primary focus, which has not been seriously done so far. 
  5. The government of India needs to launch an aggressive program of nature-based solution, ecological restoration, ideally to build resilience and generate livelihoods.

Niti Aayog Composite Water Management Index

The index comprises 9 broad sectors with 28 different indicators covering various aspects of groundwater, restoration of water bodies, irrigation, farm practices, drinking water, policy, and governance. 

Niti Aayog Report on Water Crisis or Composite Water Management Index

  1. 75 percent of households do not have drinking water on-premise and about 84 percent of rural households do not have piped water access.
  2. Critical groundwater resources, which accounted for 40% of India’s water supply, are being depleted at “unsustainable” rates and up to 70% of India’s water supply is “ contaminated”. 
  3. Nearly 600 million Indians already face “high to extreme water stress. It said 21 cities including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai, and Hyderabad will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people. 
  4. As per the Niti Aayog water crisis will lead to a loss of 6% in GDP by 2050.
  5. An average of 200,000 Indian lives is lost every year due to inadequate supply or contamination of water.
  6. By 2030, the country’s water demand is projected to be twice the available supply.
  7. Droughts are becoming more frequent, creating severe problems, especially because approx 53% of Agriculture in India is rain-fed.
  8. The Niti Aayog Database says 54% of wells in India are declining in level due to unsustainable withdrawals for irrigation.

More on the Water Crisis in India

Water Crisis - Issues, Causes, and Consequences
Image Credits : Giving Compass

Low performing state on Index – About 60% of the States were marked as “low performers” and this was cause for “alarm,” according to the report. Many of the States that performed badly on the index — Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh — accounted for 20-30% of India’s agricultural output. Which could lead to a food security crisis in India?

While Jharkhand and Rajasthan may have scored low, they have made a remarkable improvement when compared over two years.

High and medium performers – Several of the high and medium performers — Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Telangana — had faced droughts in recent years. Therefore, a lack of water was not necessarily grounds for States not initiating action on conservation. Conclusion

India is still a water surplus state. According to the Central Water Commission, India needs a maximum of 3,000 billion cubic meters of water a year while it receives 4,000 billion cubic meters of rain. The key is yearly action prior to the monsoon, rather than the odd major initiative.

The effective answer to the freshwater crisis is to integrate conservation and development activities – from water extraction to water management – at the local level; making communities aware and involving them fully is, therefore, critical for success.

The “conventional” sources of water such as rainfall, snow-melt, and river runoff captured in lakes, rivers, and aquifers are no longer sufficient to meet human demands in water-scarce areas. The 6th SDG aims at aimed at ensuring the availability of clean water for current and future generations but this is in direct conflict with it. 

Desalinisation – Prospects and Challenges

Niti Aayog is working on a plan to exploit India’s vast coastline and its marine waters by desalinating seawater and supplying it to population centers via a network of pipelines. The plan is to set up floating desalination plants in marine waters under India’s command or set up plants along the country’s 7,800-km coastline. (Up to 12 Nautical Miles – Exclusive Economic Zone of India). 

Desalination is the process through which seawater is converted into potable water.


  1. Mostly with the advancements in technology the cost of desalination will come down eventually.
  2. It can meet the present water requirement and the looming disaster.
  3. Using saline drainage water offers potential commercial, social and environmental gains. Reject brine has been used for aquaculture, with increases in fish biomass of 300 percent achieved.
  4. India is a water-hungry nation and with 57% area drought-prone it is wise to utilize the abundant resource.
  5. India has a long coastline of 7500 km which is a huge amount of Seawater. Which is a huge potential for India?


  1. There is an increase in the temperature of this zone of the sea, together they decrease the dissolved oxygen level, which is called hypoxia, and that impacts the aquatic life in that zone.
  2. Hypoxia often leads to the formation of Dead Zones in the oceans. These zones have quadrupled since 1950, mainly as a result of climate change. Now the excess salt is adding to these problems.
  3. Since brine is denser than seawater, it sinks to the seafloor and disrupts vibrant communities of life, which find themselves wanting far less salt and far more oxygen.
  4. Fossil fuels are used to produce the energy required for the processing of seawater. This contributes to global warming.
  5. Compounding the problem is the ongoing expansion of desalination as more and more countries turn to the technology in the face of climate change which is exacerbating water shortages.

Closing Comments

  1. Due to the relatively high economic costs, desalination is currently concentrated in high income and developed countries.
  2. There is a need to make desalination technologies more affordable and extend them to low income and lower-middle-income countries, increasing the viability of desalination for addressing SDG 6 in areas that developments have previously been limited by high economic costs.
  3. To do this, technological refinement for low environmental impacts and economic costs, along with innovative financial mechanisms to support the sustainability of desalination schemes, will likely be required. 

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