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Prelims Capsule


Water Wars in South Asia

Water Wars in South Asia


  • GS 3 || Environment || Climate Change || India & Climate Change

Why in the news?

Water scarcity in South-Asia leading to water war in South-Asia


The researchers surveyed 13 towns across these countries to understand the challenges of the urban denizens of these regions. Unplanned urbanization and climate change are the key factors responsible for the state of affairs, the study says.

The average annual water availability of any region of country is largely dependent upon hydro- meteorological and geological factors; and such water resources data is assessed basin-wise. The per capita water availability in the country is reducing due to increase in population. Also, due to high temporal and spatial variation of precipitation, the water availability in many regions of the country is much below the national average and this may result in water stressed / scarce conditions.

Water stress in detail:

  • Most of the community’s water sources are from springs and the springs are on the decline because of the complex combination of climatic and non-climatic factors.
  • Ten of Asia’s largest rivers originate in the Hindu Kush Himalaya stretch of mountain ranges running from Afghanistan in the west to China in the east.

  • Yet, the gap between demand and supply of water here may double by 2050. The places surveyed are extremely dependent on springs (ranging between 50% and 100%) for their water, and three-fourths were in urban areas.
  • Under current trends, the demand-supply gap may double by 2050. Communities were coping through short-term strategies such as groundwater extraction, which is proving to be unsustainable.
  • A holistic water management approach that includes springshed management and planned adaptation is therefore paramount.
  • Across the region, the encroachment and degradation of natural water bodies (springs, ponds, lakes, canals, and rivers) and the growing disappearance of traditional water systems (stone spouts, wells, and local water tanks) are visible.
  • One of the studies that makes the same point about rapid urbanisation, blames poor water governance, lack of planning, poor tourism management during peak season as well as climate breakdown for the water stress.
  • Of India’s 12 Himalayan states, Assam, Mizoram and the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh are the most vulnerable to climate change.

Water stress in South Asian countries:

  • Expanding industrialization: In most of South Asia, water is still a contentious political issue. With expanding industrialization, the region is confronting water shortages and agrarian issues, and it will continue to face rising energy and water needs.
  • Extraction of groundwater: With an estimated 23 million pumps in use across Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, over-extraction of groundwater is a major concern.
  • Furthermore, nearly 60% of groundwater in the Indo-Gangetic plain is contaminated by salt and arsenic.
  • Influence of climate change: These problems are compounded by the influence of climate change, which is diminishing the amount of water in the Brahmaputra basin and altering water flow patterns.
  • Electricity consumption: In such conditions, the growing need for power and stable water levels may force bilateral water-sharing arrangements to be reconsidered in the future.

Common reason for water stress all across:

  • Industrial Demand: As the share of GDP that water contributes to GDP rises from 29.1% in 2000 to 40% by 2050, more water will be required. As a result, water demand will rise from 30 billion cubic metres per year in 2000 to 161 billion cubic metres per year in 2050.
  • Increasing consumption: While India’s water consumption will increase by more than 50% over the next 12-15 years, supply will only increase by 5-10%. This will result in water scarcity, affecting the majority of people, particularly those who are dependent on agriculture and live in poverty.
  • Freshwater scarcity: India’s water demands are mostly reliant on the monsoon. Environmental changes and population growth, along with a lack of long-term water resource availability, are a problem.
  • Unsafe and poor quality: Despite advancements in drinking water, many other water sources are contaminated with bio and chemical contaminants, and water-related ailments account for about 21% of all diseases in the United States. In addition, just 33% of the population has access to traditional sanitation. This resulted in a lack of safe drinking water, putting the health of the Indian population at risk.
  • Groundwater scarcity: Many rural Indian communities on the edges of urban development have little choice but to drill wells to tap groundwater sources. Groundwater blocks are critical or overexploited in 29% of cases. There is no simple solution for India, which relies on water supplies for food and human survival, but the country’s overall water availability is severely strained.


  • The installation of hand-pumps and bore wells.
  • Water harvesting tanks will be built throughout the state
  • Building rainwater harvesting structures
  • Water tankers during periods of shortage
  • Explore the option of “snow harvesting” in the higher reaches.

Government Policies and Programmes:

  • National Water Policy 2012: The stringent implementation of National Water Policy.
  • The Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) was launched by the Government of India on June 25, 2015 in selected 500 cities and towns across the country for a period of 5 years i.e. from FY 2015-2016 to FY 2019-2020, which has been extended for completing the grounded projects.
  • Atal Bhujal Yojana: It was introduced in 2016-17 Union Budget for a period of 5 years with a corpus of Rs.6000 crore, shared by Central government and World Bank on 50:50 basis.
  • National Rural Drinking Water Programme (NRDWP): It aims at providing every person in rural India with adequate safe water for drinking, cooking and other domestic basic needs on a sustainable basis.
  • National Programme on Regeneration of Springs (NPRS): The programme will entail several short, medium and long-term actions through 8 step methodology.
  • International cooperation:
    • 18th SAARC summit in Kathmandu, the SAARC member countries signed a Framework Agreement on Energy Cooperation.(hydropower projects)
    • The Koshi Flood Outlook being developed by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and its national partners in Nepal and India has high potential for saving lives and properties in the basin
  • Jal Shakti Abhiyan: Catch the Rain on 22nd March, 2021, the World Water Day, with the theme “Catch the Rain – Where it Falls When it Falls” to cover all the blocks of all districts (rural as well as urban areas) across the country during 22nd March, 2021 to 30th November, 2021 – the pre-monsoon and monsoon period. The focused interventions for JSA includes water conservation & rainwater harvesting, renovation of traditional and other water bodies/tanks, reuse and recharge of borewells, watershed development and intensive afforestation.
  • This will not only help us face the present crisis, but also open up avenues to deal with issues of future water availability amid climate and socioeconomic changes. Regional cooperation should be based on the three pillars of sustainability: economic vitality, environmental integrity and social equity, both at the national and local level.

How water crisis can be avoided?

  • Proper storage: Increasing water storage and expanding water supply will help cities survive droughts. Natural-based methods, known as “supply-side management,” can solve overall water shortages and are recognised as the primary answer for providing sustainable water for agriculture.
  • Proper use of water in agriculture: Agricultural systems that are environmentally beneficial, such as those that use conservation tillage, crop diversification, legume intensification, and biological pest control, as well as intensive, high-input systems.
    • Natural-based methods to enhancing sustainable agricultural production provide significant environmental co-benefits, such as reduced land conversion pressures, pollution, erosion, and water requirements.
  • Wastewater treatment: Constructed wetlands for wastewater treatment can be a cost-effective, nature-based solution that produces high-quality effluent for a variety of non-potable purposes (irrigation) as well as other benefits such as energy production.
  • Rainwater harvesting: Farmers must be taught how to use irrigation water efficiently. Reusing water is also a possibility. Rainwater harvesting pits must be made mandatory for all types of buildings in both urban and rural regions.
  • Promoting water conservation: To support the efforts of governments and non-governmental organisations in promoting water conservation, conscious efforts must be undertaken at the household level, as well as by communities, institutions, and local bodies.
  • Management of industrial wastewater: Long-term measures should be adopted to prevent water pollution, groundwater contamination, and adequate treatment of home and industrial wastewater.

Way Forward:

  • Rain catchment programmes: Because most water is moved or evaporated rather than consumed, rain catchment schemes must be developed and implemented.
  • Drip irrigation: Excess water use for food production depletes the total water table when agricultural output is high. Drip irrigation helps to conserve water while also ensuring food security.
  • Long-term planning: The city and state governments should concentrate on resolving the root causes of the problem. The quantity of groundwater a home can extract should be regulated by the government. This water should be metered and charged accordingly.
  • Education: More efforts are needed to raise awareness about water scarcity, share knowledge about traditional water storage methods, and disseminate information about individuals and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on water conservation.
  • The Maharashtra Irrigation Act of 1976 contains provisions that allow the government to advise residents in the command area not to plant water-intensive crops like sugarcane if there is a severe water shortage.
  • Drought-resistant crops, including as oilseeds and pulses, should be encouraged, and watersheds should be built through the MGNREGA project to replenish the groundwater table.
  • People have been battling short-term remedies such as groundwater extraction, which have proven to be unsustainable.
  • As a result, it’s critical to take a comprehensive strategy to water management that includes springshed management and anticipated adaptation.

Mains oriented question:

Describe the future water catastrophe in India. Discuss how the Atal Bhujal Yojana can assist prevent water shortages. (200 words)