Time to rewire water equity - Hindustan Times
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Time to rewire water equity

ByHindustan Times
Aug 16, 2023 01:57 PM IST

This article is authored by Gayatri Divecha, head, Good & Green, Godrej Industries.

India may be a bright spot in the world economy, but access to water continues to be skewed in favour of the economically well-off. Equitable water access and appropriate water pricing can help make correct the inherent disparities.

Save water. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Save water. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

You step into the shower early in the morning, half-asleep yet comforted by the soothing sensation of warm water cascading down. It's a mundane act that is ingrained in your routine. At the same time, a woman in rural India embarks on a long, strenuous journey at the first light of dawn. Her mission? To fetch a few buckets of water, an ordeal taking up to four laborious hours. Water, a fundamental human right, continues to be an elusive resource for many in India.

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In stark contrast to India’s position as a bright spot in the world economy, equitable access to water remains a challenge. Among other countries of South Asia like China, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, India is one of the most water stressed countries in the world, with a fast-rising population that depends on a disproportionately small resource of water.

Fig. 1 - Declining trend of per capita water availability in India over the years - PIB
Fig. 1 - Declining trend of per capita water availability in India over the years - PIB

Although India has taken strides in improving water accessibility, with the government launching schemes to ensure taps in every home, the distribution remains uneven. It's a matter of concern when availability of clean water – a vital necessity – hinges upon geographical location and socio-economic status.

Adding to this urgency is climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates details how the climate crisis will severely exacerbate the water crisis, pointing to a global future where 35% of the population could face water scarcity by 2050.

Moreover, water scarcity in India could lead to a significant reduction in food supply, leaving 50% of the Indian population vulnerable to hunger due to water and heat stress. The economic cost of inaction is steep as well. With current trends, water shortage could result in a $1.3 trillion loss in Indian Gross Domestic Product by 2050. Water pricing is a potential solution that could promote efficient and equitable use of this precious resource. Between 2016 – 2018, Cape Town, in South Africa, faced a severe water crisis. The city was close to having their taps run dry but they ran an aggressive campaign to conserve water and make efficient use of it. They implemented steep tariffs penalising heavy users of water, and prohibiting water for pools, lawns, and non-essential uses. This along with behaviour change campaigns helped the city to avert their water scarcity.

For India, striking the right balance of water pricing is crucial to ensure that the policy doesn't end up burdening the lower and middle-income households and reflects the true value of water and discourages wastage. Technology can also play a part in managing water more efficiently. Employing smart metering to adjust water flow pressure can avert water wastage and reduce leakage in pipes. Meanwhile, consistent maintenance of ageing pipes can further prevent loss.

Addressing the issue of water inequity requires a shift in our approach – from reactive to proactive. Policymakers and citizens alike need to work together to ensure the preservation and equitable distribution of our water resources. We can no longer afford to wait for crises to strike before taking action. There is an urgent need to formulate policies that address water inequity and to employ technology to manage water more efficiently.

Corporations also have a crucial role in water conservation. Apart from harvesting and recycling water in their operations, they can invest in water stewardship projects built on principles of sustainability and equity. There are programmes being implemented across India like those of the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR) which has a unique initiative called water budgeting to ensure optimal, rightful and efficient consumption of water. Jal Bhagirathi Foundation also has been doing pioneering work in the Thar dessert amongst the most vulnerable and water stressed communities in India to address the acute drinking water shortage and fragile water ecosystem in the area by reviving traditional water harvesting structures, and focused projects on gender mainstreaming, WASH, poverty reduction.

At Godrej, we are a water positive company and we support and run watershed management projects across four locations in India in association with National Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development (NABARD). Since 2016, we have helped capture 32 million KL of water through our watersheds. We are also adopting a water stewardship model in areas of highwater stress. After a thorough assessment, we are identifying and aligning all stakeholders in conserving, managing and governing their water.

We are at a critical stage, where inaction is no longer an option. The path to water positive communities is daunting, but not impossible. It's time we made every drop count—for ourselves, for our communities, and for the generations yet to come. Let's make it a future where water is a right enjoyed by all, not a privilege of the few.

This article is authored by Gayatri Divecha, head, Good & Green, Godrej Industries.

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