To cite: Mukhopadhyay, B. and Mukhopadhyay, B.K. (2020). Water Scarcity and Stress: Leaving No
One Behind, The Sentinel 29th Jan 2020, India
[available online : https://www.sentinelassam.com/editorial/water-scarcity-and-stress-leaving-no-
Water Scarcity and Stress: Leaving No One Behind
Dr. B K Mukhopadhyay1 and Dr. Boidurjo Mukhopadhyay2
A snapshot takeaway from the World Health Organizations’ report on global water scenario:
• In 2017, 5.3 billion people used a safely managed drinking-water service (i.e. one located on
premises and free from contamination)
• 6.8 billion people used at least a basic service. A basic service is an improved drinking-water source
within a round trip of 30 minutes to collect water.
• 785 million people lack even a basic drinking-water service, including 144 million people who are
dependent on surface water.
• About 2 billion people use a drinking water source contaminated with Faeces.
• Contaminated water can transmit diseases such diarrhea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio.
Contaminated drinking water is estimated to cause 485 000 diarrheal deaths each year.
• By 2025, half of the world’s population will be living in water-stressed areas.
• In least developed countries, 22% of health care facilities have no water service, 21% no sanitation
service, and 22% no waste management service.
Water use has been increasing globally by about 1% every year since the 1980s, contributed by population
growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns. Global water demand has been
set to continue rising at a similar pace until 2050, accounting for an increase of 20-30% above the current
level of water use, with an increased demand from both industrial and domestic sectors. About 2 billion
people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and 4 billion people experience severe water
scarcity for at least a month every year. Water stress is defined as the ratio between water withdrawals (i.e.,
domestic, agricultural, and industrial water uses) and available renewable water supplies. Water scarcity
means scarcity in availability (i.e. physical shortage) due to failure of institutions to ensure a regular supply
or due to a lack of adequate infrastructure. Safe drinking water and sanitation are basic human rights, they
are indispensable to sustaining healthy livelihoods and fundamental in maintaining the dignity of all
International Human Rights law obliges states to work towards achieving universal access to water and
sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need. Fulfilment these requires
that services be safely available, physically accessible, equitably affordable. Water availability depends
upon the amount of water physically available, and also how it is stored, managed and allocated to various
users. It therefore relates to surface water and groundwater management, alongside water recycling and
reuse. Water management for smallholder family farmers need to consider both rainfed and irrigated
agriculture. Approximately 80% of the global cropland is rainfed, and 60% of the world’s food is produced
on rainfed land.
The 2019 UN Water initiative called ‘Leaving No One Behind’ suggested how improvements in water
resources management and access to water supply and sanitation services are essential to addressing
various social and economic inequities. Water scarcity is entwined with environment protection, poverty
alleviation and promoting development; globally more than 2.5 billion people live in the most abysmal
standards of hygiene and sanitation. Wastage of water and absence of regular clean water supply not only
to the burgeoning metropolis but to huge rural regions also simultaneously coexists. The mighty Colorado
river, North America, seldom meets the sea. One third of the U S and one fifth of Spain still suffer from
water stress. Central Africa’s Lake Chad, supporting the very life of 30 million plus people has already
shrunk one-tenth of its former size, the negative contributory factors being climate change, drought, poor
management and over use, among others.
In India, accessibility to drinking water has increased considerably during the last decade in particular.
However, around 10 percent of the rural and urban population still does not have access to regular safe
drinking water. The available annual utilizable water in our country (surface as well as ground) stands at
1100b cubic meters. World Bank data shows that the total cost of environmental damage in Indi amounts
to 4.5 percent of GDP and of this 59 percent results from the health impact of water pollution! What is more
a cause of anxiety is the fact that the adequate availability of safe drinking water is far from being
satisfactory. Though water contains organic and inorganic impurities, the main source of diseases are the
organic impurities enter into the water through the soil from cesspools, through manure, or through sewers
emptying their contents into the rivers - from which many cities, in particular get their drinking water
Additionally, the very piping system into the home, unclean water tanks, improper drainage, and waste
disposal systems, also contribute to impure or contaminated water. Again, presence of excessive inorganic
matters (iron, lead salts, etc.) leads to diseases like constipation, dyspepsia, colic, paralysis, kidney disease
and sometimes even death. Dangerous bacteria produce deadly diseases of jaundice, cholera, typhoid,
diphtheria, kidney problems, nervous system problems and even lead to increased risk of cancer. Contrary
to popular perception, hardness of water is not a risk to health so long it does not contain disease causing
pathogens and bacteria. Especially, during summer and rainy seasons the position goes from bad to worse-
water borne diseases become rampant. Extreme hot and humid environment are favorite bacteria breeding
seasons. The immediate need is thus there to invest in timely, reliable, proven and advanced water
purification system that guarantees the public-in rural and urban areas-safe and pure drinking water at all
times. Efforts to enhance drinking water supply must move at a greater speed so as to cover all of villages
with adequate potable water connection and supply. Technology plays a colossal role in such contexts to
meet people’s basic needs in a sustained manner. Naturally, protecting fresh water reserves, watershed
development, chemical treatments following the safety norms, tackling the arsenic and fluoride
contamination, among others, could give rich dividends.
Ban Ki-moon once said, “we need to begin thinking about better strategies for managing water – for using
it efficiently and sharing it fairly. This means partnerships involving not just governments but civil society
groups, individuals and businesses”. True. A realistic approach- obviously not by hiding in conference
rooms and observance of world water day – could mitigate the incidence. The responsibility lies equally
with the Government as well as private sector – checking the unrestricted exploitation of ground water,
encouraging planned urbanization, optimisation of use, restricting the flow of effluents from industrial
units to the rivers, with stricter governance.
Nurturing new scientific knowledge to understand the evolution of water systems that involve the
relationship between man and nature; to integrate local knowledge into scientific research to address user
needs; and to put in place more effective mechanisms to translate scientific knowledge into societal action.
The challenges in addressing the water-food-climate change nexus could be mitigated if collaborative
approaches are taken up backed by political will, market mechanisms and innovative technology. For
example, market forces could work well under a cap-and-trade approach similar to those applied to carbon
dioxide. Favoring market forces to play a role in the management of scarce water-defining the value of
water-positively aids to take a big leap forward. Developing an inclusive institutional structure to establish
multi-stakeholder dialogue and cooperation is essential to ensuring equitable access to sustainable water
supply and sanitation services. When governments’ role is geared towards policy setting and regulation,
the actual provision of services is carried out by non-state actors or independent departments. Well-
functioning accountability mechanisms help institutions with sufficient capacity fulfil their mandates to
monitor and enforce the obligations of service provider.
1 Professor of Management and Author of the book ‘India’s Economy: Under a Tinsel still Tough’
2 International Development and Management Economist based in London, UK