India is staring at a water crisis with economic growth, livelihoods, human well-being, and ecological sustainability at stake. Water scarcity not only affects Gross Domestic Product (GDP) directly in the form of loss of productivity to the agriculture, industrial and service sectors (including infrastructure) but also decreases the ability of the population to think, invent and produce, which indirectly hampers the growth of the nation. As per the Composite Water Management Index (CWMI) 2019 released by The National Institution for Transforming India (NITI) Aayog, India is facing a water challenge not only because of the limited availability of water resources but also its mismanagement.
Strongly linked to poor management of water, desertification/land degradation is costing $48.8 billion to the country’s exchequer annually impacting 2.5% of GDP every year. As per a World Bank study, by affecting health, agriculture, income, and property, water scarcity can erode economic growth to the tune of 6% of India’s GDP by 2050. The same report also highlights that efficient and sustainable water management practices can add 1% to GDP.
Though home to about 18% of the world’s population, India has only 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. Contributing 20% to GDP (FY 2020), the agriculture sector in India consumes nearly 80% of India’s freshwater and 62% of groundwater resources. With over 30 million borewells, India draws nearly 25% of the world’s groundwater. Most Indian cities lose 35-50% of their treated water to pilferage or leakages. Only 37% of wastewater is being recycled and these inefficiencies are resulting in contamination of surface as well as groundwater resources compounding healthcare challenges. The manufacturing and hospitality sectors, contributing to 30% of GDP are dependent heavily on water for their operations and water shortages could heavily impact the economic activity. Lastly, as per WWF-India’s 2019 report on Water and the Indian Banking Sector, it is estimated that more than 39% of the portfolio of Indian banks is exposed to sectors that face a high level of operational water risk and this could hurt the economy severely. With population and demand for food both growing, current water usage patterns in India are unsustainable and will result in further deterioration of the situation.
As per the 2018 Wateraid report, over 12% of India’s population is already living the “Day Zero” scenario with no access to clean water near their home. By 2030, India’s water demand will exceed supply by two times, indicating severe water scarcity in the country. Estimates suggest approximately ₹20,00,000 crores ($26.4 billion) in investments are required to bridge the expected water supply gap by 2030.
While efforts for improving water management are being undertaken, the current pace of progress is not adequate to mitigate the forecasted risks. Areas including a) Surface water restoration, b) Source augmentation of groundwater c) Watershed Management d) Participatory Irrigation practices e) Sustainable on-farm water use practices f) Waster-water treatment and reduction of NRW and g) Policy and water governance, needs to be improved on war-footing. While an Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) approach is need of the hour, India continues to also battle with a) Non-confirming administrative and basin/catchment boundaries, b) Inadequate per capita storage to tide over spatial and temporal variations in water availability, c) Inadequate cross sectoral cooperation and integrated approach, d) Poor data and information exchange between stakeholders, and e) Lack of human capacities in monitoring water use and water quality. Time has come to work collectively to overcome these constraints and ‘Science of Where’ becomes important more than ever for understanding these constraints and managing linkages and processes.
Geospatial technology and its applications
Water challenges are intricately related to the hydrologic cycle and related processes and cannot be addressed in isolation. They are multi-disciplinary and have local, regional, national, and global dimensions. Physical, biological, economic, and social processes too have a strong bearing on the water ecosystems which unless addressed in totality will not help in addressing the problem holistically. While conventional GIS offers powerful tools for the collection, storage, management, and intuitive visualization of data from multiple disparate sources, advanced GIS capabilities like spatial modelling and predictive analysis using artificial intelligence, machine learning and big data analytics provide enhanced situational awareness for an accurate forecast of likely water scenarios to mitigate, plan and respond, including the impact of changing economic, demographic, and climatic conditions.
Simulation models provide decision-makers with interactive tools for understanding the physical systems and judging how actions on the ground can affect the overall ecosystems. Mobile GIS tools play a vital role in democratizing geo-information and empowering stakeholders with real-time information for informed decisions and risk mitigation. With powerful collaboration capabilities, geospatial infrastructure promotes collective problem-solving and perhaps most critical of all, building robust water resilience based on data and insights.
Geospatial Value Impact
In spite of the fact that water is a vital component of the economy, the monetary valuation of water’s impact has always been tricky. Given the complex multidisciplinary nature of the processes and the indirect role water plays in the economy, there are many touchpoints that very often can either go unnoticed or can be debated for their value proposition. Geospatial technologies aid in unravelling these touchpoints through insights in relationships and patterns. Water conservation efforts are a lifeline for future sustainability and the use of GIS technologies can aid in 20-30% improvement in these efforts. Geo-enabled water supply platforms have proven to be successful in improving the overall efficiencies of water supply and wastewater management by 20%, while providing improved services to citizens.
This, clubbed with the economic value offered by geospatial technologies in mitigating social, political, and environmental risks of water stress, makes a significant impact on the country’s economy. A conservative estimate of the Geospatial Value Impact (GVI) on the water sector is as under:
India is experiencing a very significant water challenge. Building robust water resilience by leveraging strengths to anticipate future trends, prepare, manage, and mitigate the challenges effectively and efficiently, will be one of the critical success factors for sustainable economic growth. A geo-enabled Water Resource Management approach is the need of the hour which can contribute directly to addressing the challenges while ensuring economic growth without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems and the environment.
[i] Considering a conservative 1% improvement in overall water management in the country
[ii] Assuming that ₹100 ($1.3)/person/month can be passed on as water benefit and reaches 50% of the country’s population
[iii] Based on the assumption that the current cost of environmental degradation in India is pegged at ₹3.75 trillion ($49.6 billion) and proper planning can reduce the degradation at least by 2%/annum
Over the next several weeks, we will be publishing six articles on the Geospatial World website to bring out the sectoral value of geospatial technologies for select industry segments that are national priorities. This is the fourth article of the series.