Daily Answer Writing
02 November 2021

Q. What is water stress? How and why does it differ regionally in India? (150 words)

  • Previously asked in UPSC CSE(M) - 2019 - GS 1
  • Source: The Hindu - Page 8/ editorial - Finding a way out of India’s deepening water stress 
  • GS 1: Resources


Approach Answer:

Introduction: Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use. World Bank indicates that by 2030 India’s per capita water availability may shrink to half, which will push the country into ‘water scarce’ category from the existing ‘water stress’ category. Its noteworthy that India is home 16% of World’s population however, it holds only about 4% of global freshwater.


Types of Water scarcity - Two types of water scarcity have been defined: physical or economic water scarcity.

    1. Physical water scarcity is where there is not enough water to meet all demands, including that needed for ecosystems to function effectively. 
      • For example - Arid areas (for example Western Rajasthan and Ladakh region ) often suffer from physical water scarcity. 
    2. Economic water scarcity is caused by a lack of investment in infrastructure or technology to draw water from rivers, aquifers, or other water sources, or insufficient human capacity to satisfy the demand for water.
      • For example - Much of Bundelkhanda and Vidharba are characterized by economic water scarcity.


Regional differentiation:

    • Urban-Rural differentiation: 
      • In the rural areas, 80%-90% of the drinking water and 75% of the water used for agriculture is drawn from groundwater sources creating water stress.
        • For example - A draft report of the Central Ground Water Board concluded that Punjab would be reduced to a desert in 25 years if the extraction of its groundwater resources continues unabated;
        • The Cultivation of water intensive crops such as paddy have further aggravated water depletion, even turning water saline.
      • In urban areas, 50%-60% of the water supply is drawn from groundwater sources, whereas the remaining is sourced from surface water resources such as rivers, often located afar, in addition to lakes, tanks and reservoirs.
        • The Chennai example: in 2019, life came to a standstill and parts of the city went without piped water for months


    • Region-wise differentiation:
      • Desert regions - Western Rajasthan - Due to extremely low rainfall and high rate of evaporation.
      • Cold Desert of Ladakh - The water is supplied only by melting glaciers with minimal rainfall.  Melt-water too is scarce in summers due to low volume.
      • Semi-Arid Regions of Haryana and Punjab support crops like paddy only due to robust irrigation system.


    • Agriculture induced:
      • Haryana and Punjab: Due to severe groundwater extraction and sowing water guzzing crops like paddy and Sugarcane.
      • Maharashtra: one of the worst water stressed states of India but it is also the largest state with sugarcane cultivation in the tropical region. 
      • Similarly, sugarcane and paddy are commonly cultivated in highly water stressed regions of the Cauvery basin, which spreads over the conflicting states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.


    • Rain-Dependent seasonal scarcity:
      • Bundelkhand, Marathwada & Vidharbha: are a few regions which face water-scarcity if an year of monsoon deficient rainfall occurs.


Conclusion: While a lot of the water scarcity is physical in nature in India in the arid and semi-arid regions. However, a great amount of it is economic water scarcity due to - poor planning in urban areas, wrong crops cultivated in certain rural areas, and lack of infrastructure in areas like Bundelkhand and Vidharba.

To deal with this situation a comprehensive approach is necessary

    • The Ministry of Water Resources must reconfigure its relationship with other Ministries and Departments  -
      • For urban areas: Urban Development, Local Self-Government and Environment), and
      • For rural areas: with counterparts in agriculture, the environment and rural development for greater convergence to achieve water and food security.

Mihir Shah committee recommends viewing surface water and ground water in one lens and not separately since both are interdependent hydrologically.

Write a comment