Updated: August 7, 2019 7:13:00 am
One-quarter of the world’s population faces “extremely high” levels of baseline water stress, which means that irrigated agriculture, industries, and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year, new data from the World Resources Institute (WRI) show.
India is 13th among these 17 countries. India has more than three times the population of the other 16 extremely highly stressed countries combined, the WRI noted. This implies that more than three-quarters of these populations facing extremely high water stress live in India.
India’s water challenges extend beyond Chennai, which was recently reported to have “run out of water”. The WRI noted that last year, NITI Aayog declared that the country is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat”.
In addition to rivers, lakes and streams, India’s groundwater resources are severely overdrawn, largely to provide water for irrigation. Groundwater tables in some northern aquifers declined at a rate of more than 8 cm per year between 1990 and 2014.
The WRI took note of steps India has taken to mitigate water stress, including setting up the Jal Shakti Ministry. Other solutions India could pursue, the WRI suggested, include more efficient irrigation; conserving and restoring lakes, floodplains, and groundwater recharge areas; and collecting and storing rainwater.
Globally, water withdrawals have more than doubled since the 1960s due to growing demand. Apart from the 17 countries facing withdrawals of 80% or more from available supply, 44 countries (home to one-third of the world) face “high” levels of stress, where on average more than 40% of available supply is withdrawn every year.
Twelve out of the 17 most water-stressed countries are in the Middle East and North Africa. The region is hot and dry, so water supply is low to begin with, but growing demands have pushed countries further into extreme stress. The WRI said climate change is set to complicate matters further: The World Bank found that this region has the greatest expected economic losses from climate-related water scarcity, estimated at 6%-14% of GDP by 2050.
Even in countries with low overall water stress, communities may still be experiencing extremely stressed conditions. The WRI cited the examples of South Africa and the United States, which rank 48 and 71 on the list, respectively, yet the Western Cape (SA) and New Mexico (US) experience extremely high stress levels.
The Aqueduct tool used by the WRI ranks countries on the basis of “water risk scores”, which are determined using 13 indicators of water risk.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.