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Water crisis could keep GDP growth below 8% in India

New Delhi : The water crisis across India is expected to intensify by 2050 and unless the country is able to manage its water resources judiciously and sustainably, its economic growth could get hit, two reports have separately pointed out.

While the United Nations warned that water crisis will get more acute and Central India was staring at a deepening water scarcity, the World Bank has cautioned that unless “water-scarce” India starts managing its water, it cannot achieve the next level of economic growth - 8 per cent.

India can comfortably achieve 7.5 per cent GDP growth in next couple of years. In fact, India’s economic growth in the last three decades has been steady, stable, diversified and resilient. However, the real challenge for India to go up the growth ladder is managing the water, without it, 8 per cent plus growth will be difficult to achieve, Junaid Ahmad World Bank India Director was quoted as saying recently.

In its half-yearly development report, the World Bank said that on the back of reforms undertaken in the 1990s and buoyant global economy between 2004 and 2008, India’s GDP grew at an average annual rate of 8.8 per cent during these five years. With an exception of these five years, high growth did not sustain for more than a year.

One of the major factors that are going to make India achieve the dream of 8 per cent plus growth is how India manages its scarce natural resources — building resilience against climate change and protecting water resources.

“The fundamental constraint to India’s long-run growth is the scarcity of natural resources", the Bank's report said.

Recently, the country's annual economic statement, the Economic Survey Report for 2018 had underlined the fact that the country's water resources needed to be protected for the benefit of farmers and the agricultural sector. It said that the policy implications are stark and India needs to spread irrigation – and do so against the backdrop of rising water scarcity and depleting groundwater resources.

The Survey had warned that farmers could lose income if water resources were not available to them.

The Survey had said the fully irrigating Indian agriculture against the backdrop of water scarcity and limited efficiency in existing irrigation schemes will be a “defining challenge” for the future. And it is not just groundwater depletion, but pollution of rivers and other water bodies is also throwing a major challenge for the country, pushing India towards a major water crisis.

According to the UN World Water Development Report, Central India was witnessing withdrawal of 40 per cent of the renewable surface water resources. The report said groundwater resources are expected to be under greater pressure in north India while south and central India are expected to experience high levels of risk from poor water quality in its river basins by 2050.

The UN report said the world should look at nature-based solutions to find better ways to maintain supplies of water, keep it clean, and protect people from droughts and floods.

As the global population expands and the planet warms, demand for water is rising, while the quality and reliability of our water supply is declining, the latest edition of the UN World Water Development Report - 2018 warned.

One response is to invest more in protecting ecosystems that recycle water, such as wetlands and vegetation, and spend less on concrete flood barriers or wastewater treatment plants.

The World Water Development Report seeks to inform policy and decision-makers, inside and outside the water community, about the potential of nature-based solutions (NBS) to address contemporary water management challenges across all sectors, and particularly regarding water for agriculture, sustainable cities, disaster risk reduction and water quality.

"Environmental damage, together with climate change, is driving the water-related crises we see around the world. Floods, drought and water pollution are all made worse by degraded vegetation, soil, rivers and lakes. When we neglect our ecosystems, we make it harder to provide everyone with the water we need to survive and thrive".

"Nature-based solutions have the potential to solve many of our water challenges. We need to do so much more with ‘green’ infrastructure and harmonize it with ‘grey’ infrastructure wherever possible. Planting new forests, reconnecting rivers to floodplains, and restoring wetlands will rebalance the water cycle and improve human health and livelihoods", the report added.

Why forests should take centre stage during the water decade

Only a tiny fraction of national biodiversity plans consider the impact of forests on water supply, and only a fraction of national water plans place ecosystems at their centre.

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