Water Crisis: Data from World Resources Institute

The new data from the World Resources Institute makes the following observations:

  • About one-quarter of the world’s population is facing extremely high levels of baseline water stress (i.e. irrigated agriculture, industries, and municipalities withdraw more than 80% of their available supply on average every year).
  • Water withdrawals have more than doubled globally since the 1960s due to growing demand.
  • Apart from 17 countries which are facing withdrawals of 80% or more from available supply, 44 countries (home to one-third of the world) are facing high levels of stress, where on average more than 40% of available supply is withdrawn every year.

  • 12 out of the 17 most water-stressed countries are in the Middle East and North Africa which are hot and dry, so water supply is low to begin with, but growing demands have pushed countries further into extreme stress. The report also cautions that things may get worse due to climate change.
  • Even in countries with low overall water stress, communities may still be experiencing extremely stressed conditions. For example, South Africa and the United States ranked 48 and 71 on the list, respectively, yet the Western Cape (SA) and New Mexico (US) experience extremely high-stress levels.

Where does India Stand?

  • India is 13th among these 17 countries facing extremely high levels of baseline water stress. India has more than three times the population of the other 16 extremely highly stressed countries combined which imply that more than three-quarters of these populations facing extremely high water stress live in India.
  • The report also makes note of the observation made by Niti Aayog which had declared that India is “suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, and millions of lives and livelihoods are under threat”.
  • Together with rivers, lakes and streams, India’s groundwater resources are severely overdrawn, largely to provide water for irrigation. Groundwater tables in some northern aquifers declined at a rate of more than 8 cm per year between 1990 and 2014.
  • The report also makes note of steps India has taken to mitigate water stress, including setting up the Jal Shakti Ministry.  Among other measures the report asks India to pursue more efficient irrigation; conserving and restoring lakes, floodplains, and groundwater recharge areas; and collecting and storing rainwater.

The report by the World Resources Institute ranks countries on the basis of “water risk scores”, which are determined using 13 indicators of water risk.

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