What is Water Stress? How & Why Does it Differ Regionally in India?

Updated July 29, 2022

Water stress or water scarcity is a situation where the demand for usable water during a certain period of time is high as to its availability. Situation of Water stress occurs when the freshwater deteriorates in terms of quality and quantity. The situation exemplifies the lack of freshwater resources to fulfil the demand for water.

You may wonder that only 0.014 per cent of all water is fresh and accessible while, 97 % is saline. A little less than 3 per cent of all the water on the earth is hard to access. Technically, there is enough freshwater on this globe. However, availability of fresh water is uneven due to the geographical locations, a sharp rise in the demand for freshwater, drastic increase of the industry, deterioration of freshwater sources etc.

Talking about India, it is ranked 13 on Aqueduct’s list of 17 extremely highly water-stressed countries. Northern India which was included in calculations of water stress for the first time, faces severe groundwater depletion. Chandigarh tops this list, followed by Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir. India’s water crisis challenges extend beyond Chennai, which was recently reported to have run out of water. This uneven distribution of water is due to the following reasons:

Why Does Water Stress Differ Regionally in India?

Of course, because of more than one reason, this water stress differs regionally. Let’s have a look:

Geographical Variation

Some regions are bound to have a crisis due to natural water shortage. In these areas, there is an inadequate amount of water to supply a region’s demand. These areas may be in rain shadow regions leading to depleted water tables.

Ex: Vidarbha and Marathwada- The extreme heat and water shortages have made the people toil for water in these regions due to their location on the leeward side of western Ghats.

Agricultural Patterns

One of the reasons for depleting water level is the cropping pattern, which is skewed toward crops that use more water. Rice and sugarcane crop together consume more than 60% of water available for irrigation. In various regions, this agricultural pattern is existing. Such regions differ in terms of water stress when compared to regions that grow water-efficient crops. Ex: Sugarcane belt in UP is water-stressed due to the water drawing ability of the crop.

Climatic Conditions

Climate is an important factor in determining water scarcity in a different region. With better rainfall patterns, a region is less likely to experience water shortage. Ex: Kerala coast is water sufficient due to regular rainfall whereas Rajasthan desert region faces extreme water stress due to lack of rainfall.

Population Density

It is important to understand that the water resources will deplete as the population strain on land increases. The water crisis is common in the areas of high population because the water availability of usage depends on the number of people depending on it. Ex: The Indus plains experience more water stress in comparison to coastal plains due to higher population density.

Water Management Practices

Some parts of the country are very well ahead regarding water management techniques. The techniques may be modern technology-based such as water recycling or traditional ones like bawris. This ensures results in differences in water stress. Ex: Farmers in arid Rajasthan plains are likely to suffer less compared to their counterparts in Vidarbha due to their better water management techniques.

How Does Water Stress Vary Region Wise?

The common reasons that we hold responsible for water stress apply to regions of India, are into play in different combinations. Every Region has its unique situation.

The Himalayas

The Himalayan state gets an abundance of freshwater from the numerous rivers originating in the mountains. It is the main source of water for the Himalayan state. But, it has seemed that unless a long-term and mountain-specific strategy is devised, millions of people would face the chronic water shortage in this region. This is all going to happen because of a sharp rise in urbanization and pollution.

North Indian Plains

As the population is booming in the region, the demand for water has been increased. It means the population strain on this region leads to a shortage of water. Besides this, the regions have untreated sewage, overexploitation of water for agriculture and industries, polluting river water from Industries effluents etc.  making drinking water unsafe for many.

South India

Over-dependence on groundwater, pollution due to the anthropogenic activities, inadequate agriculture practices, irregular rainfall etc. are resulting in a severe shortage of drinking water. Example: The recent water crisis in Chennai.

Northeast Water Stress

Despite being a region of high rainfall, received from both orthographic and monsoon winds, North-East is facing water scarcity due to anthropogenic reasons such as mining, pollution and lack of water conservation plans.

Western India

Arid and semi-arid climate of Rajasthan and Gujarat due to low rainfall have created the conditions of water scarcity. In the regions of Maharashtra, the water stress is due to the faulty cropping patterns and scanty rainfall.

The Coastal Plains

Rising sea level and overexploitation of groundwater are leading to the ingress of saline water in the aquifers leading to water stress.

The Way Forward to Tackle Water Stress

It is high time to focus on water stress. Long term specialised strategies will be better to handle this wide-ranging situation. Modification in water distribution techniques is the key. Steps can be taken to mitigate the water stress are:

Sustainable Water Management

Improving water infrastructure must be a priority, as water conservation and efficiency are key components of sustainable water management.

Restoring and Reviving Traditional Water harvesting structures such as wetlands, lakes, Johads (earthen check dams), etc.

Reclaimed Water

Rainwater harvesting and recycled wastewater will also allow to minimize the water stress and helps to restore the groundwater and other natural water bodies.

Pollution Control & Better Sewage Treatment

In many regions water has totally become full of diseases and unfit to drink due to the contamination of Industries effluents, sewages etc. So, without proper sanitation, it is not possible to drink. That is why addressing pollution, measuring and monitoring water quality is essential. Besides, improving the sewage systems in specific areas is another way to prevent water scarcity from becoming any worse.

Awareness & Education

Education is critical to solving the water crisis. In fact, in order to cope with future water scarcity, it is necessary to radically reform all forms of consumption, from individual use to the supply chains of large companies.,

The Life Threatening Water Stress to Conclude

The reasons for water scarcity in India and the extent to which they are felt vary. Some areas are over affected whereas others are least. However, it is clear that an acute shortage of drinking water is felt in both- regions with heavy rainfall and rainfall deficit regions. A common policy is not sufficient to handle this issue and there is a need for specialized solutions to contain it. The issue calls for urgent action in a decentralized manner as the demands are growing only.

In fact, the demand for water is expected to surge by 40% in 2030, if currents trends are to continue. You can see many people are facing the problem of water scarcity. Two-thirds of the global population live under the conditions of water stress at least a month of the year. Also, half a billion people in the globe face severe water stress all year round.  Thus, water stress is a global problem and it is high time to concentrate on this wide-ranging situation.

Beyond Water Stress Situation Under Awareness Reads

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