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Water scarcity refers to a situation where the demand for freshwater exceeds the available supply. It is a global problem that affects many regions and countries. India has 17% of the world’s population but possesses only 4% of the world’s freshwater resources, several of which are shared international transboundary rivers.
The access to freshwater resources in regions with shared international rivers faces the following political challenges:
- Lack of cooperation between stakeholders over allocation of water resources and settlement of disputes limits access.
E.g., opposition of West Bengal government to settlement of Teesta River water dispute between India and Bangladesh.
- Weaponization of water resources: Countries upstream on the river can control the flow of water as a way of asymmetric warfare against downstream countries.
E.g., China’s refusal to share hydrological data on Brahmaputra during Doklam stand-off.
- Cross-border Terrorism: There are demands for revision and revocation of Indus Water Treaty due to Pakistan’s hostile attitude and animosity towards India.
- Lack of Legal frameworks: Lack of international agreements is a barrier in fair allocation of water resources.
E.g., India and China do not have a water treaty.
- Development differential: An upper riparian state with capacity to divert water resources could harm intergenerational equity for lower-riparian states with underdeveloped capacities to utilize water.
E.g., China’s construction of dams over Brahmaputra and Mekong.
The access to freshwater resources faces following natural challenges:
- Natural disasters: Floods and storm surges can disrupt water availability through increased salinity of riverine and groundwater due to increased turbidity and ingress of sea water.
- Topography of a region influences the flow and distribution of freshwater resources. It is also difficult to develop infrastructure to improve water access in remote or inaccessible areas such as mountainous regions.
- Hydrological cycle: Natural changes in the hydrological cycle, such as variability of rainfall and snowmelt or occurrence of droughts and floods can impact the availability of freshwater.
- Climate change: Reduced precipitation, erratic weather patterns, and increased temperature can lead to scarcity of freshwater resources and exodus of climate refugees.
The access to freshwater has the following impact on economic development and poverty reduction:
- Better Health: Access to safe and clean freshwater prevents water-borne diseases such as cholera and typhoid. Improved health leads to improved productivity and better incomes. It also improves learning outcomes for children.
- Women empowerment: Access to fresh water reduces the need to walk long distances to fetch water. It reduces school drop-out rate and provides time for income-generating activities.
- Productive Agriculture: Access to freshwater can improve agricultural productivity through cultivation of a wider range of crops supported by irrigation. This improves food security, reduces hunger, and creates income-generating opportunities for farmers.
- Industrial Development: Many industries rely on freshwater for production, cooling, and cleaning processes. Productive and skilled human resources also fuel industrial growth, leading to more employment opportunities and economic development.
- Energy Independence: Water is used to generate clean and renewable sources of energy i.e., hydroelectric power for economic growth and sustainable development.
Water scarcity is a complex and pressing problem that requires coordinated efforts from governments, communities, and stakeholders to ensure sustainable access to freshwater resources for current and future generations. Timely implementation of schemes such as the Jal Jeevan Mission is essential for achieving long-term economic development and poverty reduction.
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