India, a land of mighty rivers and monsoon (heavy seasonal rain) is now suffering from a water crisis situation in some parts of the country. A majority of water-related challenges in India are a result of poor water management practices and insufficient mechanisms. Recent headlines about the water crisis in one of India’s major metropolitan cities- Chennai have created urgency in the administration to prepare for the challenges of tomorrow.
According to some reports, 600 million Indians face high to extreme water stress and in the future, this crisis is only going to get worse as water demand is projected to be twice the available supply in the next few years. As per the estimates of the National Commission for Integrated Water Resource Development (NCIWRD) of India by 2050 the total demand for water is expected to reach 973 BCM (billion cubic meters) for low demand scenario and 1,180 BCM for the high demand scenario, which in any case is going to create a wide gap as the present water availability is only 695 BCM. The mismatch between the present and projected demand, uneven distribution of water resources, frequent water scarcity and flooding, deteriorating water quality and a growing dependence on groundwater etc., demands a smart approach and intelligent frameworks for the water management of the country.
Traditionally in India, any discussion on water crisis tend to put emphasis on the water conservation habits of the common people and there is a culture of putting a lot of government resources on running ads and slogan campaigns to encourage the common people for water conservation. Such efforts are good but without providing proper mechanisms/frameworks cannot bring outcomes in a country of 1.3 billion people and it seems that Modi government is quite aware of this fact too. This time, the focus of the Indian government is on developing some smart mechanisms/frameworks in a time-bound manner.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set up a target of providing piped water supply to every household of the country by 2024, which may sound over-ambitious today but he has a track record of accomplishing such near impossible goals in the previous term too. In India, earlier there was a governance culture that every state should manage their own water resources and related challenges but with some of his recent moves, Prime Minister Modi has clearly indicated that water is a national priority now.
From many years, India’s water management functions were divided into different ministries, departments/bodies, such kind of silo-based culture was a big hurdle in the decision making process or one can say that it was the source of the problem. A few days back, in some of the very first decisions of the new term PM Modi has merged all of those entities (Ministry of Water Resources, River Development & Ganga Rejuvenation and Ministry of Drinking Water & Sanitation) and formed a single ministry called Ministry of Jal Shakti (water power) for dealing with water management issues holistically and ensuring better coordination of efforts.
In the process of designing policies and strategies for water management, the role of the data with an adequate level of detail is crucial but existing data systems related to water in India are limited in their coverage and efficiency i.e. only an aggregate data is available for the domestic and industrial sectors and where data is available it is often unreliable and collected with outdated collection techniques. To deal with this challenge, in June 2018 the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI Aayog) has launched the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) a comprehensive scorecard. The CWMI will provide an annual snapshot of the water sector status and the water management performance of the different States and Union Territories in India. And more importantly, the data included in this Index will be made publicly available to researchers and entrepreneurs to drive innovation in the sector.
In the recent years, India has also experimented with a number of water technology-related trends i.e. recycling/reuse of wastewater, desalination, aquifer recharge (groundwater recharge) and in situ water conservation (a rainwater harvesting method) techniques, etc. India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), an autonomous body of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, did some research on the Low-Temperature Thermal Desalination (LTTD) technology. The NIOT has set up three desalination plants in Kavaratti (also called the world’s first self-powered plant), Minicoy, and Agatti islands of Lakshadweep, an Indian union territory. The capacity of each of these LTTD plants is 100,000 liters of potable water per day. Currently, the NIOT is exploring public-private partnership for further experimentation with the technology and for up-scaling the capacities of the orders.
Other Indian states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Gujarat, and Maharashtra have also set up desalination plants and a number of desalination projects are under implementation in different parts of India as a part of the National Desalination Mission (NMD) of the government.
For ensuring access to clean drinking water in rural areas, the Indian government is planning to launch a drive for installing the water filtration plants in over 1 lakh villages of the country. Government of India’s Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) has indigenously developed various water filtration systems. For this water filter installation drive in rural India, the BARC and Common Service Centres (rural e-governance initiative of the government) will work together. Modi government has also appointed more than 250 officers as in-charge of the water-stressed districts for coordinating the ‘Jal Shakti Abhiyan (JSA)’ a time-bound/fast track water conservation and irrigation efficiency campaign for rural India.
India’s key partner Israel is one those countries where efforts for water management started much before its independence, with the establishment of the National water company Mekorot (in 1937) and since then it has emerged as a successful case study of water management in one of the world’s most tough deserts and arid zone.
With the growing global water challenges the demand for Israeli water innovations and technologies is growing too and there is a general curiosity to know how a country which was once facing a chronic water shortage is now a hub to some of the world’s leading water solution providers which not only filter, treat, recycle or desalinate water but also leading the world of water expertise by literally producing water from the thin air.
A majority of these companies are active in India too and it will be interesting to see how these companies will scale up and align with the Indian government’s water management endeavors. The necessary agreements on cooperation at the regional, national and international level in water resources development and management already exist between India and Israel. In 2018, out of the six Israeli startups selected by the India-Israel innovation bridge, two (Aquallence and AMS Technologies) were related to water technology alone.
It’s not that Israel is unaffected with the global warming and climate change patterns, some of its parts are facing a severe drought situation for the consecutive fifth year but what makes it stand apart are its approach and ability to transform every challenge into an opportunity.
India’s socio-economic profile of the population is changing fast and its needs are growing exponentially too. For developing smart water management mechanisms in a country which is almost equal to the size of a continent, working at an accelerated pace is tough but essential and Israeli experiences can prove to be a good part in this process.