Water, a Perspective

Imagine life without water? You probably wouldn’t get through the first ten minutes of your day; you use it when you brush, flush and take a bath. But that’s just the water you see. Over 10,000 litres of water is used for the set of cotton clothes you wear, over a hundred litres comes to your plate as a meal serving; It’s in your coffee; It’s in the clay pot; It’s in the milk and the grass that the cow ate to produce that milk. While you and I don’t need to think about water, there are women who walk miles and wait hours to source that water.

About 4 billion people of the world live under severe water crisis, for at least one month of the year. Of these 4 billion, a billion live in India. According to a water resource group study, India will have only half the supply of water we will need, by 2030. While the World Economic Forum claims water to be the greatest potential risk of the 21st century, we, the common citizens still need to realize the importance of this precious resource.

Of the current demand for water in India, irrigation requirements account for 89%, followed by household at 7% and industrial use at 4%.  Water use trends across different uses from 1990 projected up to 2025 indicate that agriculture will continue to dominate and increase in water use over the years. Going by the 80-20 rule, it thus becomes rational to work on agriculture to change the water supply demand equation. In this article, I will try to articulate my experience in this domain, and possible ways to look forward from here.

Farmer suicides in the country speak about the extent to which they are undervalued; so, farmer well-being should be at the centre of any work in the agricultural sector. The green revolution brought with it, India’s sufficiency for food and grains; but unfortunately, today, over 50% of its cultivable area has wheat or rice grown on it. These water guzzling crops are grown as their markets and sale is secured by the government. Studies show that growing maize and millets could reduce the demand of water (by 45%), while ensuring traditional, nutrient rich and healthy diets. So, the first efforts need to be made in water literacy and incentivizing sustainable agricultural schemes.

A fitbit or any other measurement wearable helps us track our steps, calories and weight. Without it, the naked eyes will be very poor at diagnosing one’s health. Similarly, the farmer doesn’t want to exploit water- but often lack the means to measure it. Lack of access to such measurement tools renders poor irrigation efficiency in India. Irrigation efficiency refers to the amount of water consumed by the plant, as a ratio of the amount of water supplied.  India has a low irrigation water use efficiency at 30% and 55% for surface and groundwater respectively, which means that most crops consume only half of the water supplied while the rest is wasted. Tools that enable budgeting of water, of profit and loss, help farmers make informed choices. Empowering farmers with the knowledge and tools to solve their own problems enables scalable and sustainable solutions.

Our goal should be to support large-scale solutions, harness technology and fill in the missing gaps to make India a water-literate country – building a critical mass of informed citizens to drive conservation initiatives. By putting water at the heart of our conversations and measurements, we can accelerate this agenda. India is on the brink of an unprecedented water crisis – but timely, concerted and decisive action could turn the tide. When it comes to water and its management, it is befitting to remember the words of Saint Rahim, who urges us to think of water as diamonds, the mother earth and our very being itself:

Rahiman Paani Raakhiye, Bin Paani Sab Soon;

Pani Gaye Na Oobre, Moti Manush Choon;


1. NCIWRD, Ministry of Water Resources India, 2010
2. Compendium of Environment Statistics India, 2011
3. Ministry of Water Resources Central Water Commission, Guidelines for Improving Water Use efficiency in Irrigation, Domestic and Industrial Sectors.

By - Arpit Jain, Alumni
Indian School of Development Management, Batch 2018

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