Why is the world today confronted with a crisis of availability of and access to freshwater resources?

The question "Why is the world today confronted with a crisis of availability of and access to freshwater resources?" was asked in the Mains 2023 GS Paper 1. Let us look at the model answer to this question.

Answer: The demand for freshwater is far higher than the current availability of water in the very large population of the world. According to the UN SDG 2022, about 2 billion people worldwide don’t have access to safe drinking water today.

Reasons for the Crisis of Availability and Access to Freshwater Resources

  • Climate Change: Changed weather and water patterns around the world, leading to droughts in some regions and floods in others, reduced water availability.
    • For example, Rising sea levels and storm surges caused by intensifying tropical cyclones result in saline intrusion in coastal areas, further diminishing freshwater resources.
  • Growing Population: The world's population, now at 7.5 billion, is projected to add 2.3 billion more people by 2050, creating more water-stressed conditions.
    • For example, According to the United Nations World Water Development Report 2023, around 80% of people living under water stress lived in Asia.
  • Overexploitation of groundwater: It has reduced the level of groundwater due to rapid urban agglomeration and industrial development and also leads to seawater intrusion into coastal districts, damaging the quality of groundwater.
    • For example, In 2050, India’s per capita water availability will only be 22% of the current level if the present rate of groundwater depletion persists.
  • Deforestation: Deforestation reduces water infiltration and increases erosion, which raises sediment levels and turbidity, leading to poorer water quality and higher drinking water treatment costs.
    • For example, Over the past 50 years, 17% of Amazon rainforests have been lost due to deforestation, causing the ecosystem to reach an irreversible tipping point.
  • Pollution: Pollution makes water unfit for various uses and decreases the availability of freshwater.
    • For example, Delhi generates approximately 76% of the total pollution load in the river Yamuna, which turns the river into a ‘sewage drain’.
  • Agriculture:
    • Monoculture practices due to focus on input-intensive crops (wheat, rice & sugarcane).
    • Poor agro-ecological planning, e.g. wrong set of crops being promoted in different regions, e.g. sugarcane and rice in water-scarce areas.
    • Virtual Water export: Skewed focuses on water-guzzling crops like rice, wheat, sugarcane, etc., despite water scarcity.

Way Forward

  • Sustainable water management by improving water infrastructure, solar desalination, and smart irrigation systems.
  • Pollution control & better sewage treatment practices should be considered.
  • Rainwater harvesting and recycling of wastewater will help reduce scarcity and ease pressures on groundwater.
  • AWARe (Action on Water Adaptation or Resilience) initiative at COP27: To foster inclusive cooperation in addressing water-related challenges and climate change adaptation solutions.

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