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Report Suggests Water Woes for India

By Kevin Ferguson
A girl uses a hand pump to fill jugs of drinking water in northern India. Shortages loom, a new report suggests, unless India changes the way it manages water.

Unless the Indian government makes serious changes to the way it prices and manages water, increased consumption by the nation’s farms, factories and growing population will push drinking water supplies to critical limits by 2050, according to a new report from Grail Research, a market research firm in Cambridge, Mass., that specializes in developing countries.
Part of the problem is that in many of India’s 35 states and territories, water is free or heavily subsidized, the report said. That encourages those with access — particularly commercial users — to squander it.
In Delhi, for example, residents pay $3.52 or less for each 1,000 cubic feet (7,480 gallons) of water. In Vijayawada, they pay $1.50. In contrast, Miami-Dade residents pay as much as $32.84 per 1,000 cubic feet. In Boston the price can be as high as $47.19.
Increased industrialization in India, fueled by the addition of water-intensive thermal power plants, will further strain water supplies, the report suggested. In 2000, industry was responsible for about 6 percent of India’s water consumption. By 2025, the researchers expect it to account for 11 percent, and by 2050, 18 percent.
The newly re-elected Indian National Congress party, led by Sonia Gandhi, has promised social welfare reforms, particularly to help the rural poor. But it has also sent clear messages that it will bolster economic growth through industry.
Critics fear that such growth will do little to improve access to water. In fact, in its party manifesto prior to the elections, concluded in May, little mention of water is made beyond an assurance that “steps will be taken to enhance” water security for local communities.
“The government was voted in on a plank of development, ensuring that there will be more industrialization,” said Amit Kumar, the manager of Grail Research’s global operations, from his office in New Delhi. “That clearly starts compounding the water problem.”
Industrial contribution to India’s gross domestic product is expected to increase to about 92 percent in 2015, from about 78 percent in 2000, according to Grail Research.
Among Grail Research’s recommendations to ease water shortages: increasing desalination and rainwater harvesting, improving watershed management, and use of public-private partnerships for water treatment and distribution.
The firm also pointed to the controversial National River Linking Project of India, a proposal to build 30 river links and canals and approximately 3,000 storage sites to to form a South Asian water grid.
The projects, its proponents say, would balance water flow between drought- and flood-prone areas.

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