India is staring at an impending water shortage

File photo of villagers in Jalna, Maharashtra scrambling for water as a tanker pours water into their well

The MET department has already predicted a severe summer and the water stored in 91 reservoirs around the country is only at 34% of the total live storage, a 7% drop when compared to levels last year

Most Indian states are staring at a water crisis this summer. With the heat setting in earlier than expected, reports of water scarcity have started coming in from across North, Central and parts of south India. In fact, the Meteorological Department has already predicted a severe summer for most of India, so water loss and demand are only going to increase.

The Central Water Commission, which monitors the live storage status of 91 reservoirs of the country on a weekly basis, in its March 8 report says states that live storage available in these reservoirs is 54.394 Billion Cubic Metres (BCM), which is 34% of their total live storage capacity. Last year, the live storage available in these reservoirs for the corresponding period was 61.208 BCM. In fact, the overall storage position is less than the average storage of the last 10 years, during the corresponding period.

Most river basins have witnessed a reduction in water, mostly due to deficient winter rainfall. In the Ganga basin, there has been a drop in 16.5% water, in the Narmada basin a reduction of about 13%, in Tapi 33.3%, Sabarmati 17.96% and Godavari 11.81%. The only basins which show a marginal increase from last year are Krishna (10.39%), Cauvery (6.31%), and west-flowing rivers of the south (8.04%).

In January and February, 22 states, including Jammu & Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, faced largely deficient rainfall, while 10 states, including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, parts of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, got deficient rainfall. East Gujarat got no rainfall at all.

Most river basins, including Ganga, Narmada, Tapi, Sabarmati and Godavari, have witnessed a reduction in water, mostly due to deficient winter rainfall. The only basins which show a marginal increase from last year are Krishna and Cauvery river basins and west-flowing rivers of the south

“North India consisting of seven subdivisions (East and UP, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir) receives about 17% of its annual rainfall during the winter season (January to March). J&K in particular receives about 30% of its annual rainfall during this period. The winter rainfall is very crucial for Rabi crops over the region. It is also crucial for the water management of the region,” pointed out DS Pai, head of climate prediction, India Met Department

“During pre-monsoon season (March to May), northwest India receives some amount of rainfall but most of the rainfall during the season is generally experienced in the southern and north-eastern parts of the region. So, we can't expect much improvement in the northern parts. About monsoon rainfall, it is too early to make any prediction as the data will become available only in the middle of the April. IMD will provide first monsoon forecast in the second half of April,” says Pai.

In Gujarat and Maharashtra, there are 27 reservoirs and the total live storage available in these reservoirs is 11.51 BCM, which is 37% of total live storage capacity of these reservoirs. The storage during the corresponding period of last year was 44%.

Temperatures have been unusually high this year. Parts of Coastal Saurashtra in Gujarat witnessed heat wave-like conditions. Porbandar in Saurashtra saw a maximum temperature of 38.4 °C, which was four degrees higher than previous years. As is well known, the Gujarat government has already announced that the water from Narmada would be provided only for drinking and not for industrial purposes.

Water crisis has already hit Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh, as reported by Khabar Lahariya in The Wire. There is no water underground or in the wells or in taps. Women have to walk more than 3 km to fetch water and they have to do it more than five times a day

In the Central region, there are 12 reservoirs, which the CWC monitors and the total live storage available in these reservoirs is 14.56 BCM, which is 34% of total live storage capacity of these reservoirs. The storage during corresponding period of last year was 52%. Water crisis has already hit Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh, as reported by Khabar Lahariya in The Wire. There is no water underground or in the wells or in taps. Women have to walk more than 3 km to fetch water and they have to do it more than five times a day.

Many villages in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are facing water shortage even before the onset of summer. The groundwater levels have also depleted in both states compared to last year. “Telangana's 2017 monsoon rainfall at 657.4 mm was 13% below normal and AP rainfall was even lower at 597.4 mm, both way below the national average of 841.3 mm. The water storage in the two biggest reservoirs shared by these states—Srisailam and Nagarjunasagar—were at 19 and 8% respectively, which is less than the average storage on this day over the last ten years of 30% and 19% respectively. The current live storage capacity of these figures also compare poorly with average live storage across the country of 34% this year, 37% last year and 38% average of last ten years,” elaborated Himanshu Thakkar of South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers & People.

In the states of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan, CWC is monitoring six reservoirs and the total live storage available in these reservoirs is 5.16 BCM, which is 29% of total live storage capacity of these reservoirs. The storage during the same period last year was 26%. The current storage level is better than last year.

In Kerala, Kuttanad in Alappuzha district is reeling under acute drinking water scarcity. With temperatures hitting an all-time high, parched conditions are expected. Palakkad has already reported temperature higher than 40 degrees celsius. The northeast monsoon, which helps to increase the storage level in reservoirs in the state, had left seven districts with deficient rainfall last year.

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