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Water Scarcity and Drought: Challenges and Solutions



Written By: Jagriti Shahi 


Water, the elixir of life, is becoming an increasingly precious commodity.  Drought and water scarcity are no longer distant threats, but a present reality for many regions worldwide.  This article explores the challenges of water scarcity and droughts, along with potential solutions, with a specific focus on the current situation in Bangalore, India. Water Stress Level by Indian States 


Figure: Indian States Facing Extreme to Low level of Water Scarcity - Source: World Resource Institute - 2019 Mapbox - OpenStreetMap The Current Situation in India

India is currently classified as "water-stressed" by the World Resources Institute. This means that the country's available water resources need to be increased to meet its demands.  Some alarming signs include:


  • Decreasing per capita water availability: India's per capita water availability has been declining steadily for decades.

  • Drying Rivers: Several major rivers, including the Ganges and Cauvery, are experiencing reduced flows, impacting agriculture and livelihoods.

  • Urban Water Shortages: Many cities in India face regular water cuts, forcing residents to rely on expensive tankers for daily needs.



Figure: India’s water cost curve illustrates a number of available options - Source: 2030 Water Resources Group, Mckinsey

Bangalore's Water Worries

India's IT capital, Bangalore, is a stark example of a city facing water scarcity.  The city's rapid urbanization and population boom have outpaced the development of sustainable water management practices.  Groundwater reserves are rapidly depleting, and traditional sources like lakes and rivers are drying up.  This has resulted in water rationing, price hikes, and anxieties about the future.

India's IT capital, Bangalore, is a cautionary tale of a metropolis grappling with water scarcity.  The crisis in Bangalore is a confluence of several factors:


  • Unsustainable Growth: The city's phenomenal growth has been impressive, but not without consequences. Bangalore's population has exploded from around 4 million in 1991 to an estimated 14 million today. This rapid urbanization has outpaced the development of water infrastructure and resources.

  • Depleting Groundwater: Bangalore relies heavily on groundwater, but extraction rates far exceed recharge rates. Thousands of borewells have dried up, leaving residents dependent on erratic piped water supplies or expensive water tankers.

  • Vanishing Lakes: Once blessed with numerous lakes, Bangalore has lost many to encroachment and pollution. These lakes used to serve as natural reservoirs, replenishing groundwater and mitigating floods. Their loss has severely impacted the city's water security.

  • Strained River Relations: The Cauvery River, a primary water source for Bangalore, is at the center of a long-standing water dispute with neighboring Tamil Nadu. Uncertain water flows from the Cauvery further exacerbate Bangalore's water woes.


The consequences of water scarcity in Bangalore are dire.  Residents face water rationing, with some areas receiving water only for a few hours a day.  Water prices have skyrocketed, placing a burden on households and businesses.  The city's economic growth is threatened as water scarcity deters potential investors and disrupts essential services.

The Global Challenge of Water Scarcity

Freshwater resources are finite, and our demands are ever-growing.  Factors like population increase, climate change, and pollution are putting immense strain on our water supplies.  According to the World Resources Institute, around 1.7 billion people already experience water scarcity at least one month a year.  This scarcity has cascading effects, impacting agriculture, industry, and human health.

Figure: Global Gap Between existing accessible, reliable supply and 2030 water withdrawals - Source - Mckinsey 

Innovative initiatives by countries to address water scarcity and drought:


  • Singapore has become a world leader in desalination technology,  which removes salt from seawater to produce fresh water. They also have NEWater, a high-purity reclaimed water used for industrial purposes and even drinking water supply.

  • Israel is a pioneer in drip irrigation, a method that efficiently delivers water directly to plant roots, minimizing waste. Additionally, they have developed advanced techniques for treating wastewater and recycling it for agriculture.

  • Australia is implementing water-efficient urban design practices, such as using drought-resistant plants and harvesting rainwater. They are also increasing their desalination capacity to meet growing water demands.

  • California, USA has implemented water rationing during droughts to restrict water use. They also have conservation programs that educate the public on water-saving practices.

  • Morocco: They've embraced fog harvesting, using large nets placed on mountaintops to capture moisture from fog and condense it into freshwater.

  • Netherlands: This country is known for its innovative water management systems. They are developing smart irrigation systems that use sensors to monitor soil moisture and deliver water only when needed.

  • China: They're utilizing large-scale water transfer projects, building canals and tunnels to divert water from wetter regions to drier ones.


Looking to the future:


  • Research into drought-resistant crops: Scientists are developing new crop varieties that require less water to thrive.

  • Wastewater treatment advancements: Technologies are being explored to further purify wastewater for broader applications, including drinking water.


Drought: A Symptom of a Larger Problem

Droughts are periods of abnormally dry weather that severely affect water availability.  They can be caused by natural climate cycles, but human activities like deforestation and excessive water use exacerbate their impact.  Droughts not only worsen water scarcity but also lead to crop failures, wildfires, and economic hardship.

Here's how human actions can worsen droughts:


  • Climate Change: The burning of fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases, trapping heat in the atmosphere. This alters weather patterns, leading to more extreme weather events, including droughts. Rising temperatures also increase evaporation rates, further drying out soils.

  • Deforestation: Forests play a crucial role in regulating the water cycle. Trees absorb and transpire water, releasing moisture back into the atmosphere. Deforestation disrupts this process, leading to decreased rainfall and increased drought severity.

  • Water mismanagement: Overuse of groundwater for agriculture and other purposes can deplete aquifers, leaving less water stored underground. Inefficient irrigation practices can also waste vast amounts of water.


The consequences of droughts are far-reaching:


  • Agricultural impacts: Droughts cripple crop yields, leading to food shortages and price hikes. This can have a devastating impact on food security, particularly in vulnerable regions.

  • Environmental damage: Droughts can cause desertification, soil erosion, and habitat loss. They can also contribute to wildfires, further exacerbating environmental damage.

  • Socioeconomic hardship: Droughts can displace communities, disrupt livelihoods, and lead to economic hardship. Water scarcity can also create social tensions and conflicts.


Understanding droughts as a symptom of a larger problem – climate change and water mismanagement – is crucial for developing effective solutions. By addressing these root causes, we can build resilience to droughts and ensure a more sustainable future for our water resources.

Finding Solutions: A Multi-pronged Approach

Addressing water scarcity requires a multi-pronged approach.  Here are some key solutions:


  • Conservation: Promoting water conservation efforts in homes, industries, and agriculture is crucial. This includes fixing leaks, using water-efficient appliances, and adopting smart irrigation practices.

  • Water reuse and recycling: Treated wastewater can be a valuable resource for irrigation and other non-potable uses. Investing in wastewater treatment and reuse infrastructure is essential.

  • Rainwater harvesting: Capturing rainwater during the monsoon season can significantly supplement water supplies. Encouraging rainwater harvesting in homes and communities can make a big difference.

  • Leakage reduction: Many water distribution systems suffer from significant leaks. Investing in infrastructure repairs and leak detection technologies can improve water efficiency.

  • Sustainable water management: Developing long-term water management plans that consider factors like climate change and population growth is vital.


Innovative Solutions: The Rise of WaterTech Startups

India's water crisis has spurred a wave of innovation, with startups developing cutting-edge technologies to address various aspects of water scarcity and drought. Here are a few examples:


  • Water ATMs: Companies like JanaJal and Swajal are setting up networks of water ATMs in rural areas. These user-friendly kiosks dispense purified drinking water at affordable prices, making clean water accessible to even the most remote communities.

  • Smart Irrigation Solutions: WEGoT and other startups are developing IoT-based irrigation systems that use sensors and data analytics to optimize water usage in agriculture. These systems can detect moisture levels in soil and deliver water precisely where and when it's needed, minimizing waste.

  • Atmospheric Water Generators: Uravu Labs is a pioneer in atmospheric water generation technology. Their solar-powered systems extract water vapor from the air, providing a sustainable source of clean drinking water in water-scarce regions.

  • Wastewater Treatment: Companies like Ion Exchange and Thermax are developing advanced wastewater treatment solutions. These technologies allow for the reuse of wastewater for irrigation and industrial purposes, reducing the reliance on freshwater sources.


Government Initiatives for Water Security and Startup Support

The Indian government recognizes the gravity of water scarcity and is implementing various initiatives to address the challenge. These initiatives can be broadly categorised into two areas:


1. Water Security Programs:


  • National Water Mission: Launched in 2011, this mission aims to conserve water, improve water use efficiency, and ensure equitable water distribution. It focuses on areas like rainwater harvesting, promoting efficient irrigation practices, and protecting water bodies.

  • Atal Jal Yojana: This flagship program focuses on water-stressed districts and aims to improve water availability and water security at the village level. It promotes community participation in water resource management.

  • Per Drop More Crop: This scheme encourages farmers to adopt micro-irrigation techniques like drip and sprinkler irrigation to save water and increase agricultural productivity.


2. Startup Support Programs:


  • Start-Up India Initiative: This government initiative aims to create a robust startup ecosystem in India. It provides various benefits to startups, including tax breaks, funding opportunities, and mentorship programs. Several water-focused startups have benefited from this initiative.

  • Water Technology Mission: This mission aims to promote innovation and development in the water sector. It provides financial assistance and facilitates partnerships between startups, research institutions, and investors.

  • Innovation in Water Technologies Challenge: This challenge by the Department of Science and Technology encourages startups to develop innovative solutions for water scarcity and sanitation. It offers grants and incubation support to promising ventures.


The Road Ahead


Addressing water scarcity is a collective responsibility. Governmental policies, community-based initiatives, and individual actions are all essential for ensuring a sustainable water future for India. By adopting water-saving practices and investing in innovative solutions, India can overcome this looming crisis and secure its water resources for generations to come.


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