Yes, I am talking about water. There are many aspects to a discussion on water. One is the persistently growing evidence worldwide about the rapid depletion of groundwater, brought on by centuries of mindless exploitation of this precious resource.
More than 100 thousand cubic km of water falls on the face of our mother earth every year as precipitation, and this huge quantity will be, in a manner of speaking, adequate to meet everyone´s needs - but for the fact that some of it cannot be captured, and some of it falls where it is not needed. For example, while 60 per cent of the planet´s population lives in Asia, the continent is endowed with just 36 per cent of world´s fresh water reserves. No wonder then, that per capita water consumption in Asia is already a paltry 519 cu m per person per year, against 1280 in Europe and 1860 in North America, and the benchmark of 1000 cu m. This figure of 519 is very close to 500, below which a geography can be said to be suffering from water scarcity. More specifically in India, the situation is potentially more acute as we have a vast 17 per cent of the global population, with just 4 per cent of world´s fresh water sources. In the face of this and many other evidence presented by scientists, the management of water resources and the subsequent treatment of waste-water assumes importance. Not that India can boast of great achievements in either of these subjects so far.
However, the growing recognition about the management of water and waste-water puts the focus squarely on water infrastructure, or the lack of it. Unlike many other sectors, the infrastructure for water management is not weak, crumbling or neglected. It just isn´t there! It was never built. India, as a country, never paid much heed to this important aspect. On top of that, various non-sceintific and economically unsound considerations have made water pricing unviable for any sustainable investment, and the proverbial icing on the cake is complete absence of incentives for conservation of water. In such a situation, it is foolish to expect a flood of private financing in the water sector - and without private public partnerships, the daunting gaps of infrastructure cannot be conceivably bridged by the government.
The infrastructure required to effectively distribute, manage, recycle and store water is grossly inadequate as is the infrastructure required to treat the humongous amounts of waste-water generated by the world´s second-most populous nation, which by 2022 will perhaps become THE most populous country (according to latest UN Forecasts) in the world. Even globally, water infrastructure has been neglected. Lack of investment has been primarily caused by lack of governance, inadequate pricing, and interference of political short-term considerations.
As a direct result of all this, the data collected by government agencies and the Ministry today show the extent of groundwater depletion in the northern states, the serious contamination issues we are dealing with today in various regions of our country and the health hazards this poses. Overall, the potential water crisis can throw up mass migrations, draughts and famines, civil conflicts, etc., and these can impede our developmental journey.
Our cover story does a status check on the issue even as it ambitiously attempts to encompass the scope and dimensions of this very large problem.
What is somewhat heartening to note is that a number of government tenders in this sector are coming up for re-tendering. Serious players with technological know-how and execution capabilities are now encouraged to bid for these projects. Presumably, the new regime is washing out the dirt.