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Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Making India Zero Water Waste

- Jit Kumar Gupta Introduction Water ranks high among the numerous gifts made available by nature to living organisms including human beings. Life on this planet has its genesis in existence of water, made available in different forms and in different locations. Water remains sustainer, protector and promoter of life on this planet. Known as elixir of life, water constitutes most important component of human living. Water and life on this planet remain synonymous. Without water, cities and communities are known to come to a grinding halt and will cease to exist. Water is valued for making people happy, healthy and more productive. Water continues to make and remake lives in this world of climate change and so called rapid economic development. It is also known to be major determinant of

quality of life. Most of the prevailing problems of pandemics, health and well beings of human beings can be largely attributed to non-availability of water of appropriate quality and quantity. Despite the fact 75% area of the planet is covered with water, availability of adequate potable water for human consumption is fast emerging, both as a major global threat and a challenge.

Looking at the prevailing scenario, majority of the mega and metro cities are reeling under the pressure of inadequate availability of safe drinking water adversely impacting quality of life, threatening economic stability and productivity. Large number of cities in general and mega cities in particular, are forced to source water from rivers, lakes, reservoirs, located at far off distances, for bridging the ever widening gap between demand and supply and making available adequate water for human consumption. Many cities globally are known to face major water challenge and many more are likely to join the race in future. Lack of availability of good quality water in adequate quality and quantity is causing both social, physical, economic and environmental distresses and disruptions. As per estimates made by UN, more than 3 billion human beings living on this planet are known to be water stressed. According to estimates made in the UN report on the state of the world’s water, more than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies. Majority of the victims of water stress are communities occupying bottom rung of economic/social pyramid, women, children, people with different abilities, rural migrants, refugees, slum dwellers etc., who remain outside the formal system of urban planning and development.

Considering the role and importance of potable water as the determinant of quality of life, United Nations recognized, ‘Safe drinking water and sanitation as basic human rights, as they remain indispensable to sustaining healthy livelihoods and fundamental in maintaining the dignity of all human beings. International Human Rights Law also obliges states- to work towards achieving universal access to water and sanitation for all, without discrimination, while prioritizing those most in need. It further states that, fulfilment of the human rights to water and sanitation requires that these services be made available, physically accessible, equitably affordable, safe and culturally acceptable. ‘Leaving no one behind’ is at the heart of the commitment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which aims to allow all people in all countries to benefit from socio-economic development and to achieve the full realization of human rights.

India, housing one sixth of the global population and largest count of animals, has merely 4% of the global water. Accordingly, India faces greatest challenge in terms of making available potable water, on equitable basis to all its existing and future inhabitants and meeting the basic demand of water for human beings, animals, industries, agriculture, trade and commerce besides other needs of communities and states. Most challenging part of water remains, identifying the existing and future potential sources of water supply, effective management of available water, minimizing and rationalizing consumption of water, protecting sources of potable water from pollution, equitable distribution of water at affordable cost, conserving and preserving water etc.

India has the distinct advantage of housing large network of perineal river systems spread across its length and breadth. In addition, India holds great promise in terms of sourcing water from rainfall harvesting, with large areas having the advantage of concentrated rainfall. However, irrational rainfall management and river water mismanagement has been the root- cause of enormous economic and human losses, which India as a nation has suffered due to annual recurring floods. As per estimates made ,40 million hectare of land is known to be flood prone in India. With effective flood control measures, not only 32 million hectares of land can be saved but also enormous quantity of water can be sourced for meeting the needs of agriculture and human/animal consumptions during the water deficit period. It calls for looking holistically at the entire context of water for effectively managing it and minimizing its wastage, misuse/abuse.

Considering the peculiar situation India faces as a nation; factsheet of water related problems and issues prevailing in the country, few of the options which can be exercised by India to make available adequate potable water, on equitable and sustainable basis, for its current and future population, have been enumerated below.

Factsheet of Water crisis in India;

As per- IDEI; Water- India Facts;

· With just 4% of freshwater India is required to support one-sixth global population for meeting its entire set of water related needs for living, working, agriculture, urbanization, industrialization, trade and commerce, healthcare & education.

· 76% Indians are known to remain without access to safe drinking water

· 21% diseases in the country can be attributed to poor quality of water used for human consumption.

· Over 3 lakh children, under the age of 5 years, die annually due to diarrhea caused by poor quality/unsafe drinking water.

· Women are known to be major victim of water stress and are estimated to spend 150 million workdays every year for fetching and carrying water- causing loss of income to the tune of Rs. 10 billion in economic terms.

As per, “ idr- water and sanitation, March21,2020- Arpit Jain & Reshma Anand,”

· The 2030 Water Resources Group estimates that, If water consumption continues at current rate, India will have only half the water needed by 2030.

· Led by large number of tube-wells deployed in rural areas; India uses as much as 80% of freshwater for agriculture.

· For drinking purposes, rural India uses as much as 90% ground water as against 50% by urban India.

· India is known to be largest user of ground water drawing nearly one-fourth of global groundwater.

· China, despite ranking higher in population and agriculture, industry and economy, draws half of the amount of ground water as compared to India. · With sixty percent districts in the country declared water critical in terms of quantity and quality, majority of rural household in India, faces enormous risk in livelihood.

· With 70% of water remaining contaminated, caused by large water extraction, low level of treatment of extracted water, discharge of untreated water and poor water management, India ranks 120 out of 122 countries in the global water quality index.

· More than half of India’s cultivated land remains under water- intensive crops like rice, paddy, sugarcane etc., due to government supported MSP for these crops.

· Indian agriculture remains highly water inefficient, consuming twice the amount of water for producing same quantity of food/ cereals , by other similarly placed countries.

· More than 100 million Indians are estimated to consume drinking water with excessive fluoride contents.

· NITI Ayog estimates ,likely loss of 6% in national GDP, emerging from severe water scarcity , India likely to face in future.


Major issues facing the water related problems in India are, primarily and essentially, the outcome of mismanagement of water resources, rapid increase and irrational consumption of quality water arising out of;

· Ever growing, rapid and massive increase of human count and animals.

· Rapid urbanization led by massive industrialization, liberalization of economies and globalization

· Rapid increase in water demand coupled with decrease in water supply.

· Water demand increasing 35 folds in a period of last preceding three centuries, spanning from the year 1700-2000 AD.

· Large scale mismanagement of water resources

· Global warming, climate change and repeated occurrence of floods, droughts and natural disasters.

· Lack of awareness about rational, efficient and economical usage of water

· Large scale pollution of fresh water resources due to discharge of polluted water.

· Rapid growth of water based sanitary systems, water intensive fixtures, coupled with low capacity to treat waste water.

· Irrational pattern of agricultural practices- adopting water intensive /commercial crops.

· Attaching little importance to water, adopting practices leading to large consumption/wastage of water.

· Absence of a rational water management policy at local/regional level.

· According low priority and absence of holistic approach to waste water management.

· Irrational management of rainwater resource.

· Irrational and unrealistic pricing of the fresh water.

· Absence of efficient management system of water supply, outdated and inefficient system of water delivery at city/local levels, plagued by large scale leakage, theft, wastage and unaccounted water.

· Focusing more on water supply rather than on water management.

· Lack of understanding, accountability and transparency on the part of agencies involved in sourcing water, supply and water management.

· Irrational and outdated water supply systems, norms and standards for water consumption.

· Lack of reliable data about the availability of water resources and consumption pattern al local/state levels.

· Prevailing inefficient/outdated practices for usage of water in agriculture, industry etc.

· Outdated/inefficient technologies for water sourcing/ distribution at local level

· Discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, entrenched power asymmetries and material inequalities

· Poorly designed and inadequately implemented policies,

· Inefficient and improper use of available financial resources,

· Inequalities in access to safe drinking water and sanitation.


As per UN World Water Report,2019 ;

“Water use has been increasing worldwide by about 1% per year since the 1980s, driven by a combination of population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns. Global water demand is expected to continue increasing at a similar rate until 2050, accounting for an increase of 20 to 30% above the current level of water use, mainly due to rising demand in the industrial and domestic sectors. Over 2 billion people live in countries experiencing high water stress, and about 4 billion people experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year. Stress levels will continue to increase as demand for water grows and the effects of climate change intensify”.

Considering the existing and future scenario of water availability, usage, coupled with urgent need of holistically managing and ensuring equitable distribution of water on sustainable basis for all end purposes and usages, India needs to evolve a comprehensive policy for water, looking holistically at the prevailing regional peculiarities/disparities

and challenges faced in terms of effective and efficient water supply and water distribution. Looking at the prevailing trends of urbanization, population growth and trends defined by global institutions, India would continue to be primarily rural till the year 2050 with majority of Indian population living in rural India. India, as a nation, will continue to be dependent largely on agriculture for economy, employment, development and providing basic resources for industry and human consumption.

Considering the fact more than half of the water, is used by agriculture, accordingly, India will have to reinvent the agriculture economy to minimize the consumption of water. In addition, water consumption by industries will need rationalization. Considering rapid and massive urbanization with 800 million people living in urban India by the year 2050, urban planning will have to be redefined and rationalized, to make cities water efficient. Adoption of a multi-pronged strategy, using state of art technologies and looking holistically at the entire gamut of water will be critical for rationalization its availability, sourcing, management and consumption, as has been defined below. i. Physical Planning;

· Planning urban settlements on the basis of circular economy cities.

· Making cities spongy by planning based on promoting porosity.

· Adopting Regional Planning approach for rationalizing sourcing, consumption and conserving water for urban and rural India.

· Planning all cities to be water efficient and zero waste water human settlements.

· Making water conservation/ waste water management integral part of urban planning process and human settlement structure plan

· Linking/integrating all human settlements with adjoining peri-urban/ agricultural land, for rationalizing/meeting the basic needs of water for urban and agricultural purposes.

· Rationalizing urban planning, development and management, with focus on minimizing consumption of water.

· Rationalizing provision of open spaces in urban areas, considering availability/usability of water at the local level with focus on minimizing the use of fresh water.

· Linking all open spaces with appropriate level of rain water harvesting to eliminate the consumption/use of ground/surface fresh water.

· Evolving innovative landscaping design for the green spaces, including choice of flora and fauna, based on the principle of minimizing water consumption.

· Promoting use of local/native trees- known to be more water efficient, and least consumers of water.

· Preserving/protecting/promoting/augmenting all existing water resources/draining systems by making them integral part of city planning, development and management processes.

· Planning of human settlements to include; identifying /promoting/protecting all existing areas of bio-diversity and natural heritage for safeguarding water resources.

· Using all existing low-lying areas, within/outside urban areas, for creating manmade water bodies/ lakes/ponds for- preserving/ collecting/sourcing rain water; for promoting ground water recharging; lowering urban heat island impact and modulating urban ecology and environment.

· Creating urban forests in the cities to promote soaking of rain water, water harvesting, ground water recharging and augmenting ground water supply.

· Using all available spaces under traffic rotaries/islands for rain water harvesting/ storing of rain water and minimizing the use of potable water.

· Using porous concrete in all pavements/parking areas to promote rain water harvesting and ground water recharging.

· Framing bye-laws mandating minimum requirement of open spaces to be provided within the plotted area for water absorption/ground water recharging within the plots and minimizing discharge on the street.

· Evolving norms and standards and creating SOPs for minimizing creation of the hard surfaces and maximizing soft areas in the city for higher water absorption and making cities spongy in terms of water sourcing.

· Creating/specifying framework for mandating provision of number/typology of trees to be planted at the individual/institutional/commercial sites.

· Mandating all new buildings to be planned, designed and constructed as Green Buildings to promote water conservation.

· Retrofitting all existing buildings to be water efficient.

ii. Agriculture

· Making agriculture zero ground/potable water dependent.

· Using state of art methods of irrigation/drip irrigation for minimizing water consumption in agriculture sector.

· Making agriculture highly water efficient by changing the cropping pattern from water-intensive commercial crops to water-efficient cropping pattern

· Promoting efficient flood management to save water, save land, save crops for effective utilization during water deficit period.

· Creating awareness among farming communities for promoting water-efficient cropping pattern and efficient use of water.

· Preserving, promoting and creating old and new source of water at local level to meet the water requirement for agriculture and human habitation.

· Incentivizing farmers using water efficient cropping pattern and water strategies.

· Involving agricultural related research institutions/universities to redefine the agricultural economy to make it water efficient.

· Linking human habitation with agriculture by promoting use of household waste water for meeting the irrigation needs of the agriculture.

iii. Water Management

· Decentralizing the waste water collection for recycling and reuse at the community/neighborhood level to minimize use of potable water.

· Mandating all industries to be zero-waste water, by defining standards /norms for water consumption , based on the products and production capacity, by incentivizing/penalizing them.

· Making all Group Housing Societies/healthcare-educational/cultural institutions/shopping malls, consuming large amount of water to be zero- water waste by incentivizing/giving rebate in property tax etc.

· Eliminating single use and making multiple use of water mandatory at all levels of water consumption.

· Adopting duel plumbing systems in all residential/commercial/industrial/institutional buildings to promote multiple use of water and minimize waste water at local level

· Setting standards for water consumption for Indoor water equipment- mandating all manufacturers to be compliant with defined standards

· Fixing standards for outdoor water usage on the analogy and pattern used for indoor water usage.

· Making rainwater harvesting integral part of building construction/ building operation processes.

· Promoting Rainwater harvesting/ usage at community level rather than at individual level.

· Protecting fresh water resources by declaring/defining protected belts around them- with no urbanization/ construction/ industry/ institution permitted in the belt. Using land under these belts for massive plantation for protecting sources of water from possible pollution.

· Declaring Ground water as valuable natural/national resource -prohibiting individuals/institutions to tap the source without prior permission of the competent authority.

· Promoting the concept of – Slow the Flow- to reduce water usage.

· Promoting the principle of Refusing, Reducing, Recycling and Reusing for effectively managing water usage.

· Involving communities /incentivizing communities/ recognizing/ awarding communities, adopting/promoting best practices in waste water management.

· Reinventing/promoting traditional/ existing systems of water conservation/preservation/ protection/ management for sourcing , preserving water and for promoting community- oriented usage of water besides making water cost- effective.

· Charging fee for storm water drainage, based on area of the plot from owners for financing rain water harvesting at local/city level. Incentivizing the owners protecting/preserving/storing/ reusing the storm water for minimizing loss of storm water.

· Awarding people/communities/institutions reporting minimum water waste/usage.

· Charging water usage by metering- adopting slab system based on the pattern followed in the levying of income tax- with large consumers paying higher charges.

· Adopting and promoting a holistic approach to water- potable water, rainwater, sources of water, waste water management.

· Ensuring 24x7x365 approach to water supply, to minimize wastage/storage of water

· Rationalizing/optimizing/minimizing use of ground water.

· Using seasonal rivers/choses /low lying areas for sourcing/storage of rain water and meeting water demand during the water deficit seasons

· Integrating water systems at Macro and Micro level for making optimum use of water resource.

· Creating an integrated system of water network/grid by linking all perennial sources of water- rivers- at national level to ensure optimum/equitable distribution of water across nation/regions/cities/communities

· Ensuring quality of water of rivers –by prohibiting urbanization, release of household/industrial/city waste into rivers by the cities located on the river banks.

· Rationalizing water based tourism/transport of goods to protect sources of water from possible pollution

· Rationalizing allocation/water usage for Food, Agriculture, Environment

· Optimizing /protecting all wetlands as major sources of fresh water sourcing, storage, supply, ground water re-charging, modulating climate, promoting wild habitat and revitalizing bio-diversity in the region.

· Preserving, protecting , augmenting and making value addition to all fresh water sources from all possible manmade pollution,

· Promoting traditional/ vernacular/local sustainable water management practices to preserve water.

· Re-evaluating/rationalizing/promoting fresh water/ waste water usage for different urban purposes.

· Balancing water supply- demand at all levels- analyzing/focusing on high water consumption areas for minimization of water demand.

· Making water conservation people/community based movement rather than government responsibility.

· Documenting/sharing/incentivizing/rewarding/ adopting/ promoting good water management practices of local communities

· Promoting awareness for minimizing consumerism approach on the part of individuals

· Capacity building of the institutions involved in water management at local level and promoting good governance based on accountability, integrity and transparency

· Training manpower, on regular basis, engaged in water management at local level about the latest trends/practices/technologies used in promoting water management

· Creating appropriate regulatory and legal frameworks for water management including a mix of incentives and enforced penalties (‘carrots and sticks)

· Allocating adequate resources , promoting fair and effective management of financial resources for water management.

iv. Technologies

· Putting in place state of art technologies for treating and managing waste water to make it fit for use in human habitation/agriculture.

· Evolving state of art / cost-effective/ energy efficient/water efficient technologies to minimize the use of water in flushing

· Shifting sanitary system from water-based to non- water based mechanism on the pattern followed in zero-water urinals

· Using Phyto-remedial mechanism instead of Sewerage Treatment Plants for treating the sullage water for preserving /protecting/re-generating the waste water for reuse.

· Re-inventing/redesigning the water fixtures/faucets based on the principle of breaking the water into ions/mixing air to minimizing water consumption, without reducing water pressure.

· Reducing water consumption during construction of buildings by rationalizing the methods of construction and re-inventing water efficient construction technologies

· Incentivizing the production of building materials, having minimum water requirement for usage.

· Shifting from construction to manufacturing of buildings- through pre-fabrication to minimize the use of water on construction site.

· Focusing on efficient water delivery, using technology to minimizing wastage/ theft/ leakage/ unauthorized use.

· Putting in place intelligent system of water management at city/local level for optimization and effectively monitoring public water system/ misuse/ abuse.

· Putting in place state of art waste water treatment facilities for reuse as fresh water.

· Innovating- like creating water Stupas in the Cold regions- for storage/harvesting of water for use during the warm/hot/water deficient period.

· Minimizing water loss due to evaporation in hot regions- by shading areas, covering with plastic sheets or by installing solar panels on sources of water.

· Promoting evidence-based knowledge on water resources and mapping all available sources of water supply digitally, and monitoring them through GIS for optimization.

· Evolving technologies for using Geo-thermal water for human consumption.

· Adopting community-based approach rather than individual based approach for effective water management/equitable distribution of water.

· Ranking cities based on water efficiency and productivity at national/state level and rewarding them for the efforts made to optimize the water usage.

· Mapping/sharing all good practices of water sourcing/ water management/ conservation of water for optimization of water resource.


Potable water remains valuable for the simple reason that Ninety-seven percent (97%) of total water available on this planet is, primarily and essentially, salt water which is not suitable and appropriate for drinking. Only three percent (3%) of total water on earth is freshwater, out of which only 0.5% is suitable for drinking, while remaining 2.5% of freshwater is found locked in glaciers, ice caps, atmosphere, soil or under the Earth’s surface. Looking at the entire context of human existence, growth and development, it will be important to study, understand and evaluate the role and importance of water as the fulcrum around which entire human eco-system shall gravitate. Known as Elixir of life, water will continue to hold its dominant position of being promoter, sustainer and preserver of human living on this planet earth.

Accordingly, water needs to be valued, preserved, protected and used with utmost care and caution. This would require in-depth study and analysis of the entire context of availability of water, existing and future sources of water and its usage besides looking at its preservation and protection in a holistic manner. Considering multiple implication and multiple usage of water, an integrated approach to water management shall remain valuable and crucial. Accordingly, it will be appropriate, to evolve and frame a comprehensive national policy framework to look at various aspects of water management and made operational at both national, state and local levels. Water should be included in the central list of constitution so as to enable Indian Parliament to enact appropriate level for the nation as a whole. India must enact a law – Water Management, Preservation, Conservation and Prevention of Wastage and Misuse Act- on priority to preserve the precious resource. Involving communities and making them active partners in understanding and appreciating the criticality of water in human living. Involving educational institutions and making water integral part of study curricula, for creating awareness and safeguarding water, among students and communities, will remain valuable. Evolving appropriate technologies for restoring waste water for human consumption would hold the key to successful water management. Re-orienting, rationalizing and redefining, urban planning with water as the basis of settlement planning, will enable cities to overcome the challenges posed by inadequate availability of water and bridging gap between supply and demand. Adopting regional approach in planning will help optimization by sharing and integration of the use of water in both urban and rural setting. Reinventing sanitation system and shifting it from water base to non- water base, will be vital to save precious water and ensure its optimum use. Promoting multiple use of water and adopting circular economy approach, will help in conserving and preserving valuable water. Reinventing and restoring the traditional systems of water sourcing and storage will augment the availability of potable water at local level. Optimization of rain water harvesting, improving water resources management and providing access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all, will hold the key to achieve sustainability in water for human living. Putting in place good governance , appropriate regulatory and legal frameworks, adopting a multi-pronged strategy, involving individuals, communities, stakeholders and bringing them on a common platform besides mapping , preserving, protecting, promoting, integrating all the available sources of water , their rational and optimum usage, will hold the key to achieve water sustainability in any region and nation. Adoption of a holistic and integrated approach to water management will not only help in eradicating poverty, building peaceful and prosperous societies and achieving the agenda mandated in Goal 6 of SDG 2030, but will also ensure that ‘no one is left behind’ on the road towards sustainable development. Bibliography;

· A Guide to Water Conservation - Saving Water and the Earth;

· IDEI; Water- India Facts;

· Jain Arpit &Anand Reshma; idr- water and sanitation, March21,2020

· All images included in text are sourced from and have genesis in Google- which is thankfully acknowledged.


Ar Jit Kumar Gupta

#344/40-a, Chandigarh-160036

Former, Director, College of Architecture,

IET Bhaddal (Pb)

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