• Nilachal Mishra, Partner |
5 min read

Water, a magical living force, holds within it the very essence of life. However, safe and sustainable access to this resource has become a central tenet in the global sustainability discussion given the undisputable linkages between water, climate, human society, and the natural environment. The United Nations World Water Development Report 2023 states that water scarcity will affect nearly half the global urban population by 2050 , highlighting the urgency of the crisis at hand.

India, one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, is home to 18 per cent of the world’s population but holds only around 4 per cent of the world’s water resources2. The twin processes of rapid urbanisation and industrialisation are leading to a higher demand for water in the agricultural, energy and industrial sectors, posing a grave challenge for adequate supply of safe drinking water. This has far-reaching consequences; including, but not limited to health-related, environmental, and economic concerns.

The need of the hour is to plan for a water-secure future for India, building upon the work being undertaken by the Government today. Two flagship schemes – ‘the Jal Jeevan Mission’ and the ‘Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT 2.0)’ – have been launched for improved water security outcomes in rural and urban India, respectively. Both schemes are focused on universalising tap water coverage, ushering in water and wastewater reforms, facilitating private sector participation and innovation in the sector, and improving social, and behaviour change outcomes. The increase in budgetary allocation for these flagship schemes is a testament to the progress being made under them, and the plethora of opportunities envisaged for investors and beneficiaries alike3.

However, ensuring water security for tomorrow will require a well-planned strategy today. Ensuring availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all is at the core of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 6, for which several endeavours are being undertaken globally. In India, there are numerous areas which need a concerted focus to ensure equity in water supply, and this can be achieved with the support of the Government, along with participation of the private sector, civil society organisations and citizens.

First amongst these is ensuring increase in private sector participation in water and wastewater initiatives. Measures such as unlocking funding opportunities, facilitating innovations in the sector, and improved service delivery should be undertaken to give a boost to private investors. Furthermore, leveraging cutting-edge technologies and effectively using data and analytics will help budget for the future, while maximising present-day outcomes. India currently ranks as the second largest market for water and wastewater management technologies4; the risk appetite for startups and investment potential in sight for the water sector will help usher in smart solutions to present-day problems. Emerging technologies such as Smart Metering, IoT in water, and several other such initiatives would go a long way in creating an ecosystem where water challenges can be offset by improvements in monitoring and evaluation5.

Next area of focus should be source sustainability and rejuvenation as these are extremely vital to ensuring the sustainability in the longer run. Improvements in planning at the urban and rural levels, coupled with ridding our water bodies of contaminants and waste will help in increasing the availability of safe and potable water. In the same vein, we must also train our focus to the creation of a circular economy, which is likely to witness the increasing use of wastewater for industrial purposes and an increase in community-led initiatives such as rainwater harvesting. Demand assessments for the future would go a long way in mapping out this transformation and demarcating the usage of industrial, commercial, and residential purposes. As suggested by the UN 2023 Report, the importance of transboundary cooperation for the management of water resources can also not be ignored.

Finally, no sustainable change can take place without a buy-in from the people. The American historian Howard Zinn famously said, “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in change. Small acts, when multiplied by people, can transform the world.” As we work towards increasing beneficiary coverage through Har Ghar Jal and ensuring that ‘no one gets left behind’, it becomes important to emphasise on communicating the importance of these initiatives and subsequently improving tariff collections. A sustainable financial model would only be possible if there is adequate cost recovery, which in turn would ensure that a solid foundation is established for continued water security measures.

Our legacy is determined by the world we leave behind for the next generations. The efforts we take towards water security today will define the availability and usage of this resource over the next several years. Collaboration, foresight, innovation, and planning are the pillars upon which our transformation to a water-secure future would take place. Water @ 2047 is pivotal to India @ 2047, and it is vital that we start acting on it now.

A version of this article appeared on July 09 2023 in The Times of India.com