Populous agrarian belts in north and east India worst in water management, finds NITI Aayog report

The populous northern states in India are facing a "high to extreme" water stress, and pose a significant food security and livelihood risk for the country, according to the report titled 'Composite Water Management Index' released by NITI Aayog.

Though Gujarat has topped the NITI Aayog's composite water management index (CWMI), low performers are concentrated across the populous agricultural belts of north and east India and among the northeastern and Himalayan states.

Among the non-Himalayan states, Jharkhand, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are the worst performing states in India when it comes to water management. In the northeastern and Himalayan states, Meghalaya, Uttarakhand, and Nagaland ranked the lowest in the index.

Since low performers on the water index are home to close to 50 percent of the country’s population, there is a significant water risk faced by the country. Over 600 million people reside in the low performing states comprising of the populous northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, and others.

"The poor performance of these states on the index highlights a significant water management risk for the country going forward. Further, these states also account for 20 to 30 percent of India’s agricultural output...Given the combination of rapidly declining groundwater levels and limited policy action, this is also likely to be a significant food security risk for the country going forward," the report asserted.

India's water woes to only get worse

The report also pointed out that India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat.

"By 2030, the country's water demand is projected to be twice the available supply, implying severe water scarcity for hundreds of millions of people and an eventual 6 percent loss in the country's GDP," the report noted.

Citing data by independent agencies, the report pointed out that with nearly 70 percent of water being contaminated, India is placed at 120th amongst 122 countries in the water quality index.

"Currently, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and about two lakh people die every year due to inadequate access to safe water," NITI Aayog said in the report.

It stressed that there is an imminent need to deepen understanding of water resources and usage.

Citing data by agencies like Dalburg Analysis, FAO and UNICEF, the report said 40 percent of population will have no access to drinking water by 2030 and 21 cities, including New Delhi, Bengaluru and Hyderabad, will run out of groundwater by 2020, affecting 100 million people.

States which experienced drought in the past have performed better

One positive point that the report found is that the several water-scarce states are the leaders in index performance.

Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Telangana — which have suffered from drought in the recent years — marked good performance on the water index. This suggests that "corrective action" has at least been undertaken in some of the areas that need it the most.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

According to the report, 52 percent of India's agricultural area remains dependent on rainfall, so the future expansion of irrigation needs to be focused on last-mile efficiency.

The report cited the lack of water data as one of the key factors driving the water crisis. However, it said that there is "room for optimism" as water management has received increased policy attention over the past few years.

Noting that water index scores vary widely across states, it said most states have achieved a score below 50 percent and could significantly improve their water resource management practices.

Some of the key areas that need improvements, according to the report, are source augmentation of water bodies and groundwater, participatory irrigation practices, rural drinking water, urban water supply and sanitation, and policy and governance.

With inputs from PTI

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Updated Date: Jun 15, 2018 17:09:30 IST

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