ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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When the Water Runs Out

Data on falling groundwater levels and contamination should alert us to the looming emergency.

In Maharashtra’s Thane district, women recently distributed sweets when the state government finally acceded to their demand to send tankers of drinking water to assuage their thirst. But neither the tankers nor the sweets can obviate the real crisis this district and many more across India face: a future with little or no water. The growing water crisis that India faces is entirely man-made and cannot be blamed on the gods. During summer temporary measures are taken by governments to keep their constituents happy. But little sustained effort has been made to deal with the root of the problem: the overuse of precious groundwater and the inadequate measures taken to replenish it. As a result, water levels have fallen precipitously in many districts. Not only is there much less water available but what exists is also undrinkable.

In a report presented to Parliament at the end of April, the Ministry of Water Resources revealed that in 158 districts there are areas where the groundwater is now saline. The story does not end there. There is excess fluoride in parts of 267 districts, nitrate levels are beyond permissible levels in 385 districts, groundwater is contaminated with arsenic in 53 districts and in 270 districts there are areas where the water has high levels of iron. Traces of heavy metals like lead, chromium and cadmium have been found in water in 63 districts and in addition, there is biological contamination in an estimable number of water sources across India. What is worse, even in districts where the water levels are “safe”, that is, in terms of quantity of water availability, there is one form or another of contamination.

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