India heading for ‘day zero’ water as reservoirs shrink

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Drinking water is in short supply as Tamil Nadu is hit by the worst drought in 140 years. Photo: india.com

As South Africa’s Cape Town begins its countdown to the fast approaching “day zero” water crisis when taps will completely run dry, a new satellite study warns four countries – India, Morocco, Iraq and Spain – of the same fate.

According to the US-based World Resources Institute, the developers of a new satellite which monitors the world’s 500,000 dams, as a result of fast depleting reservoirs, these four countries could be next in line to experience a “day zero” water crisis.

Ahead of the peak summer months, the country could face a severe water crisis, according to the latest data from the meteorological department. As many as 404 districts will face mild to extremely dry conditions due to poor rainfall since October 2017, the Times of India reported.

While most parts of the country experience water shortages during summers, what has worsened the situation this year is the poor winter rainfall. According to the meteorological department’s data, India faced a 63% rain deficit during January and February this year and 31% from March to April 11.

The standardized precipitation index (SPI) data, a measure to determine drought, revealed that from January to March, about 472 districts experienced mild to extremely dry conditions, with 153 districts in the severe to extremely dry category. 

Most of these districts are in the north, central and west of India, including Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan states. Few places in the east, particularly in Bihar and Jharkhand, have been classed in the same category. However, in the south the coastal state of Tamil Nadu has faced its worst drought in 140 years. 

A report by the World Resources Institute said a conflict between the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh had arisen over the release of water from the Narmada river and the Indira Sagar reservoir, where levels had fallen to 33% lower than average. Also, last month the Gujarat state government stopped the water supply for irrigation and urged farmers to not plant crops. The state government said the remaining water would be used only for drinking purposes.

India is also the world’s largest user of groundwater, accounting for about 25% of the world’s extracted water from below ground. Depleting groundwater levels is a major cause of water shortages in India. In some places the decline is more than one meter per year and Gujarat is a major exploiter, which uses aquifers for domestic, irrigation and industrial purposes. The state has already consumed 68% of its groundwater.

According to a Times of India report, there has been a 70% drop in the availability of water in the past 60 years. By 2050, the country will have 22% of its present daily per capita water.

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