An Indian government think tank has warned that New Delhi is set to run out of groundwater within two years as climate change and dramatic population growth hit supplies.
Based on data collected from 24 of 29 Indian states, the National Institute for Transforming India (NITI) warned that the country’s worst ever water shortage is likely to adversely impact some 600 million people.
It said that by 2020 some 20 Indian cities besides Delhi, including global information technology centres like Bangalore and nearby Hyderabad, were also likely to run out of groundwater, impacting over 120 million residents or nearly twice Britain’s population.
It cautioned that like Cape Town in South Africa, Bangalore too faced the grim prospect of ‘Day Zero’, when its water taps would run permanently dry if drastic measures to avert the looming crisis were not swiftly implemented.
“Critical ground water resources that account for 40 per cent of India’s water supply are being depleted at unsustainable rates” the NITI analysis declared and called for the immediate implementation of sustainable water resources.
The report estimates that by 2030 India’s water demands would double and the resultant scarcity could trim six per cent off its annual gross domestic product, besides gravely impacting food security, as agriculture consumes some 80 per cent of water.
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Groundwater levels in Bangalore have plummeted in recent years. In 2012 water could be found at a few hundred feet below the ground, compared with 1,500 feet now. To make matters worse much of the remaining water is badly contaminated by industrial effluents and sewage that seep into the ground.
The report said that climate change, deficient rainfall, the onset of early and extended summer and rising populations across India were collectively making it impossible for urban municipalities to meet rising water demands.
A taste of what is to come surfaced last month in the former colonial summer capital Shimla, where the mountain springs sustaining the picturesque Himalayan town simply ran dry.
This forced thousands of thirsty and unwashed tourists, who had flocked to the hill retreat to escape the searing heat of the plains, to flee the resort.
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Hotels were forced to shut down and some 200,000 irascible Shimla residents stood for days in interminable queues to collect merely a just a bucket full of water from government tankers.
Officials blamed the crisis on a dry winter, claiming that the mountains had recorded low snowfall in winter.
But despite the impending water crisis, many of Delhi’s 20 million residents were unmindful of the impending drought and continued to hose down their cars, water their gardens and let their water tanks overflow.
“It’s the governments job to find the water and mine to use it” said Shakuntla Devi. "It’s the same story of water shortages each summer, which are resolved with the onset of monsoon rains in July," she optimistically added.
Nearly 163 million of India’s population of 1.3 billion people lacked access to clean water close to their homes, the largest such number of any country according to a recent report by the UK-based charity WaterAid.
Another 200,000 Indians died each year after drinking contaminated water.
Most Indian cities are reliant largely on ground water with some coming from rivers, canals and dams. Efforts to reduce this dependency via varied means through rain harvesting and linking rivers have failed.