Part II of IV – Two Silver Bullets
After describing the gravity and magnitude of the water scarcity in the first part, Anirban Ghosh, Chief Sustainability Officer, Mahindra Group shares the precipitating factors that have led to water scarcity. In this article which is the second of the four part series on water scarcity, Ghosh digs the reasons and probable solutions he has named as the Two Silver Bullets.
While studying about water scarcity, it becomes extremely important to know where the water actually goes and who essentially drains it.
India, on an average receives annual precipitation (including snowfall) of about 4000 billion m3; of which only 1123 billion m3 are usable. This includes 728 billion m3 from surface water resource and 395 billion m3 from ground water resources.
Estimates and growing figures of water usage show that India is heading for a total train wreck on water availability. In 2010, India consumed 710 billion m3 and studies by Government of India estimate that the consumption is likely to increase to 1180 billion m3 in 2050.
The major consumer of fresh water is agriculture. Estimates put the agriculture sector’s fresh water usage between 75% and 85% of availability. In comparison domestic (6%) industrial (1.3%) and power sector usage (0.3%) is relatively smaller.
While we get more water from precipitation than we need, the primary problem is that our agricultural and lifestyle practices have led to far greater run-off and wastage than ever before. Traditional agricultural practices helped recharge ground water each year but the increase of ground water usage and the exponential usage of chemicals to enhance productivity has impacted ground water recharge and ground water quality.
The water intensity of agriculture in India is poor. For example, India uses 5000 litres of water to grow 1 kg of rice while China uses only 1000 litres (source: International Rice Research Institute). As India grows more food for its growing population, the demand on water will become crippling.
If the estimates go in the believed direction, in 2050, 840 million people will be living in the most water-starved parts of the country compared to 320 million today and adding to this will be water quality issues. This is because per capita water availability in India is estimated to go down to 1191 m3 by 2050 from 5200m3 in 1951.
Hidden inside these alarming realities are possible actions that can mitigate the problem. We must first harness more from the water we receive and adopt technologies to reduce the water intensity of our agriculture. These are our two silver bullets.
The combination of watershed development and micro-irrigation has the highest possible impact in reducing the water problem in India. Watershed development harnesses precipitation and enables ground water recharge.
India has been practicing watershed development for more than three decades but the quality of work in many projects leaves much to be desired. Effective implementation can potentially double the availability of usable water. (Source: Detailed project report, Integrated Watershed Management Programme- Damoh, Mahindra Farm Equipment Sector, 2011).
Micro-irrigation helps to reduce the water used for cultivation by 20%- 30%. The demand for fresh water would come down sharply if all our crops were grown using this technology. The technology has been available to us for more than 30 years, yet penetration is lesser than 10%. Government has tried to enable adoption by offering subsidies but increasingly the process of accessing subsidies has become a bottleneck and is coming in the way of greater adoption of this technology.
It is clear why watershed development and micro-irrigation are the two silver bullets that can solve the water availability problem. Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation add a new dimension to this scenario. But more about that in the next part of this series.
Anirban Ghosh leads the sustainability wing at Mahindra and Mahindra as the Chief Sustainability Officer. He has been working with Mahindra Group since 1999. A gold medal winning engineer from Jadavpur University, Calcutta, Ghosh has pursued doctoral studies in Marketing Management at IIM Ahmedabad. He enjoys music, reading, travelling, driving, cricket and tennis. He is an active public speaker and has represented the nation at the Festival of India across multiple nations.
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