50% of districts in India could face ‘severe’ water scarcity by 2050, says report bl-premium-article-image

Subramani Ra Mancombu Updated - April 18, 2024 at 09:02 AM.

India, considered one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, will likely face the most severe impacts of water shortage by 2050, a report on improving water efficiency in the country’s agriculture sector has said. 

The country could face a 15 per cent decrease in per capita availability by then with projections putting a 30 per cent increase in demand, highlighting the impending demand-supply gap. By 2050, 50 per cent of the districts in the country are expected to face severe water scarcity.

With India nearly having 17 per cent of the world’s population but only 4 per cent of the freshwater resources, two-thirds of the people currently grapple with water scarcity, said the report, “Transforming Crop Cultivation: Advancing Water Efficiency in Indian Agriculture”. DCM Shriram Foundation, supported by DCM Shriram, and Sattva Knowledge Institute, a knowledge platform for the impact ecosystem, came out with the report a fortnight ago. 

Pegging India’s current utilisable water resources amount to 1,123 billion cubic metres — roughly equivalent to 40 crores of Olympic-sized swimming pools — it said the country’s existing water sources face increasing pressure.

Falkenmark index

The pressure was mainly due to population growth and pollution with key sectors such as agriculture further exacerbating the crisis due to high water withdrawals. 

According to the Falkenmark Index, regions with less than 1,700 cubic metres of water per capita annually are considered to face water scarcity. Based on this index, nearly 76 per cent of the population in India is currently grappling with water scarcity, it said. 

The impact of scarcity on groundwater resources has been the most critical.  Agriculture worsens the water crisis, with 80-90 per cent of overall water withdrawals, the report said. 

Water scarcity is primarily driven by excessive agricultural usage, which accounts for around 90 per cent of water withdrawals in India. “Being an agrarian country, irrigation by far is the largest user of India’s water reserve with a whooping usage of 84 per cent of the total water reserve, followed by the domestic sector and the industrial sector and this trend is going to persist as per 2025 and 2050 projections,” it said.

Skewed incentive system

The agriculture sector uses water extensively for the cultivation of certain crops, due to the natural characteristics of these intensively grown crops and the inefficient water usage practices used to grow them. At least 90 per cent of India’s total crop production is reliant on three key crops: rice, sugarcane and wheat. 

This dependence is projected to grow further due to the innate preference of the expanding Indian population for these staples. The dependence on these crops is further enhanced by the skewed incentive structures, including the highly subsidised pricing of water, power, fertilizers, assured markets and guaranteed prices through procurement, the report said.

Besides water-intensive crop production, India also has low irrigation efficiency compared to other countries. Water use efficiency can be measured through various metrics; one important indicator is Irrigation Application Efficiency. 

The majority of Indian farmers irrigate their crops with conventional surface irrigation methods, which seldom exceed 35 per cent of water use efficiency.  Due to excessive reliance on flood irrigation, the overall irrigation application efficiency is only 38 per cent in India, compared to other countries where it is 50-60 per cent.

Inefficient farming

As per the Water Resources Group, with the current progress towards improving water usage efficiency in India, only 20 per cent of the supply-demand gap by 2030 would be filled, leaving a large deficit. Water-intensive crop cultivation and inefficient farming practices can lead to a 30-40 per cent reduction in yield and up to 30 per cent lower income for farmers, it said. 

Apart from declining water availability, desertification and land degradation, water-intensive crop cultivation impacts farmers due to various other significant issues, including water and soil quality, climate-related challenges and declining crop productivity.

The report said rice and sugarcane cultivation, which account for 60 per cent of water withdrawals in the country, demand targeted focus and urgent attention. Rice and sugarcane collectively occupy 27 per cent of cultivable land and consume more than 60 per cent of agricultural irrigation water. 

Water-efficiency and sustainable cultivation practices for these two crops can play a pivotal role, it said.

Published on April 17, 2024 03:30

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