WWF identifies 100 cities with severe water risk by 2050
According to a recent report by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) a hundred cities worldwide, including 30 in India will face the risk of ‘severe water scarcity’ by 2050.
• As per the report, more than half of the identified cities are from China and India.
• Jaipur topped the list of Indian cities, followed by Indore and Thane. Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi also featured on the list.
• The WWF also names 28 other Indian cities, including Lucknow, Chandigarh and Bhopal, that will face an ‘increasing water risk in the next few decades’.
• The global list includes cities such as Beijing, Jakarta, Johannesburg, Istanbul, Hong Kong, Mecca and Rio de Janeiro. China accounts for almost half the cities.
• WWF also launched an online tool called the WWF Water Risk Filter to help cities imagine future water risks and plan a better and sustainable future facilitating climate and water resilience.
• Other than droughts and floods, the city’s risk levels were scored by evaluating several factors, including aridity, freshwater availability, climate change impact, the presence of regulatory laws governing water use, and conflict.
• According to the scenarios, the 100 cities that are expected to suffer the greatest rise in water risk by 2050 are home to at least 350 million people as well as nationally and globally important economies. Globally, populations in areas of high-water risk could rise from 17% in 2020 to 51% by 2050.
Pain Points of Urban Water Stress
The water supply in most Indian cities is only available for a few hours per day, pressure is irregular and the water is of questionable quality.
No major Indian city has a 24 hour supply of water, with 4 to 5 hours of supply per day being the norm.
1. Overused groundwater: 21 cities moving towards zero level
The groundwater crisis in the cities is worsening, due to gross urbanisation, unchecked boring, exploitation of groundwater and surface water and a failure by the government or private bodies to rejuvenate groundwater. For instance, Bengaluru, India’s Silicon Valley, is so overpopulated that experts predict that it might face a severe problem, which would lead to evacuation by 2025. Uttar Pradesh, the worst-hit state, shows depleting groundwater levels in 660 blocks. Among these, 180 blocks in 45 districts are ‘stressed’ or over-exploited.
2. Water Contamination
o As per NITI Aayog report, about 85% of India’s cities have access to drinking water, though most cities do not have the infrastructure to supply piped water to all homes. Only 20% of water meet health and safety standards.
o This is due to high levels of pollution, with India ranked 120 among 122 countries in the global water quality index. Almost all major rivers and 70 percent of water in India is contaminated, reveals the Central Pollution Control Board.
o In the state of Uttar Pradesh, the cities of Lucknow, Kanpur, Meerut, Ghaziabad, Agra, Noida, and Varanasi are all severely hit by water contamination. Water in these cities have high levels of salinity and heavy contaminants such as fluoride, iron, arsenic, chromium and manganese.
o As water becomes scarce, arsenic and fluoride become more concentrated in water. Nitrates seep in from fertilisers, pesticides and other industrial waste.
3. Mismanaged Sewerage
To fight pollution, the solution is to build wastewater treatment plants in order to decontaminate water before it gets discharged into urban water bodies and rivers. However, as Water Aid’s 2018 report titled ‘State of Urban Water Supply in India‘ points out, just a fraction of the wastewater that gets generated and discharged into sewers reach the treatment facilities thanks to silted sewer lines, ill-maintained pumping stations and unreliable power supply. To top it all, only a third of urban houses are linked to the sewer system at all.
A lot of planning becomes impossible owing to the lack of data. Now, the data made available by WWF can make significant impact on planning and policies.
As India rapidly urbanizes, demand for water is increasing and supply is struggling to keep up. A combination of climate change, wasteful water policies and inadequate infrastructure could turn the water vulnerability into a full-blown crisis.
Urbanization in India is raising many challenges, but none are as critical as the provision of water. And, on many measures, this challenge is far from being entirely met. For a start, a significant portion of urban Indians lacks access to piped water. For Instance-In 2015-16, according to data from the National Family Health Survey, 31% of urban households lacked access to piped water or public tap water—a proportion that has not decreased significantly for nearly two decades.
Water shortages have many costs ranging from health to economics, but it is the poor who will inevitably suffer the most.
Across India, climate change is disrupting the quantity and frequency of rainfall. A deficient monsoon can mean reservoirs struggle to fill up and less water seeps into the ground (especially in areas with significant urban construction).
With lack of water leading inevitably to economic loss and food scarcity, India might face a 6% loss in its gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050, according to the NITI Aayog report. The low performers on the Water Index compiled by the NITI Aayog house 50% of the country’s population and account for 20-30% of agricultural output.
These populous northern states of UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Haryana, and others, accounting for 600 million people are also a management risk. Food security is threatened as 80% of water, the precious resource, is used in agriculture.
Water scarcity is also expected to affect health, agriculture, income, industry, property and urban development. For instance, even in a selected smart city such as Solapur, many projects have been held up due to lack of water, as it has scared off a number of investors from exploring the possibilities, say officials in the ministry for water supply and sanitation.
The Smart Cities initiative in India could offer an integrated urban water management framework combining urban planning, ecosystem restoration and wetland conservation for building future- ready, water smart and climate resilient cities.
Urban watersheds and wetlands were critical for maintaining the water balance of a city, flood cushioning, micro-climate regulation and protecting its biodiversity,
The future of India’s environment lies in its cities. As India rapidly urbanises, cities will be at the forefront both for India’s growth and for sustainability.
For cities to break away from the current vicious loop of flooding and water scarcity, nature-based solutions like restoration of urban watersheds and wetlands could offer solutions.
To manage resilience initiatives, a public funding pool needed to be created in collaboration with the private sector to invest, reduce risk and generate returns and fuel sustainable economic growth.
There are many initiatives across the country that could be scaled up. Urban planning and wetland conservation needed to be integrated to ensure zero loss of freshwater systems in the urban areas.
India is looming towards water crisis. Its urban population is likely to suffer from water crisis. A pro-active resilience strategy is must. In which Government, Citizens and academician have to play a combine role to cope with the issue of Water Crisis.
Cities needed to invest more in nature-based solutions and enhance the health of river basins, watersheds and wetlands to build resilience to water risks. Cities also needed to support greater global efforts to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to avoid reaching these scenarios. These cities would have to build ‘resilience’ to manage such scarcity of an important resource.