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Water census in India, an important act to ensure healthy water ecosystem

Water census in India: Water is the very life force behind civilization. Even the ancient-most human settlements were found near water bodies, rivers or lakes. With the constantly growing population, the basis on which life survives is under threat. It is getting scarcer, or no more able to support existential functions due to its nature turning toxic. In other regions, the demand for water is far greater than the natural resources can provide. These natural sources can be rivers, lakes, reservoirs, ponds, tanks or underground water.

Recently, to take into account the total number of water bodies and their conditions, the Ministry of Jal Shakti of India launched the first census of water bodies in the country. The survey created a database of all the water bodies present across the length and breadth of the nation. All important aspects of the water bodies, such as status, condition, size, use, encroachment, storage capacity, and filling up storage status would be recorded.

We cannot do without water

The conducting of this survey amplifies the very importance of natural bodies of water and how important it is to preserve them. Water is the elixir of life and no life form can survive without it. Not just that, civilization cannot sustain its economic, social and environmental functions without its conservation. According to the research paper, Water bodies as a catalyst to growth and development- The case of Kodungallur town, Kerala, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, and coasts are vital for town development, serving as recreational spots, transport alternatives, and tourist attractions. However, urbanization threatens their existence, making conservation essential. The future of these bodies is subject to policy decisions, technology advancements, spatial planning, and good governance. Coordination among various agencies is crucial for implementing national and local-level schemes to address water body issues. Sustainable town growth is only possible with clean, accessible water bodies, periodically rejuvenated through careful spatial planning and community involvement. These bodies are not just natural areas but spines of social, economic, and environmental growth.

How constant urbanisation is harming natural water bodies

With the constant growth in the human population, the need for more living space is increasing. The whole infrastructure required to accommodate more humans is ever-expanding and it is having a negative impact on the natural water bodies. River basins and flood plains closer to cities are constantly polluted, dumped with waste, or worse, encroached upon. Lakes and ponds face the same fate as constant urbanisation is taking a toll on natural water resources and raising a question on the very existence of the species, it is meant to support. According to the authors of the research paper, Impact of Urbanization on Water Bodies Using Remote Sensing Techniques – A Case Study of The Shrinking Ambattur Lake, Chennai, Tamilnadu, India, water resources in urban areas are mismanaged due to human interference for development. Controlled waste disposal is necessary, and purification procedures must be implemented if waste is dumped in water bodies. Residential areas lacking sewer facilities should build septic tanks and support government campaigns for a clean and disease-free India. Immediate action by the government and public can save urban water bodies for future generations.

World Bank’s view on water situation in India

In February, this year, the World Bank published a report on the situation of water resources in India and highlighted some key points. The report titled How is India addressing its water needs? presented an elaborate description of the situation of water resources and the bank’s role in funding various government water-conservation projects. According to the report, India, with 18% of the world’s population, only has 4% of its water resources, making it highly water-stressed.

Climate change exacerbates this pressure on water resources, increasing floods and droughts. Overexploitation of groundwater has depleted it, causing challenges in irrigation and domestic water supply. The mountainous regions of Uttarakhand and Shimla face water scarcity, with women travelling long distances to fetch water. Kerala, despite heavy rainfall, struggles due to its terrain. Droughts and floods, along with unpredictable weather patterns due to climate change, pose a threat. Reservoirs can aid in mitigating extreme events by storing and releasing water.

Need to develop a water-conscious behaviour

The author of The Importance of Water and Conscious Use of Water, published in the International Journal of Hydrology highlights some key factors towards correct water-use behaviour including the perception of water usage and consumption. The root cause of the wastage of water in households is the misconceptions about water among people. Repairing of drip-taps, use of water saving equipment, washing vegetables under steam instead of water, washing dishes in a dishwasher and using a shower head with an adjustable water flow rate are some of the approaches that can be taken to prevent the loss of water at the domestic level.

From the Indian perspective, the recent water census holds greater weightage as there is rampant encroachment of the water bodies. There are many factors that contribute to such encroachment, while industrial/commercial use, illegal dwelling and religious activities remain at the top of the list. Although the water census in India only lists such factors and presents a clear picture of the reasons for the water-distribution disparity in the country, the long road of stricter laws to prevent the deterioration of water bodies still lies ahead.

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