Rapid urbanization and population growth have put developing countries under severe stress. With a mere 4 per cent access to fresh water, India stands with around 18% of the world population that is facing a severe drought situation for decades.
NITI Aayog, says that India’s overexploitation towards groundwater has led to the worst water crisis in the history and we are still reeling under water stress.
Groundwater is at the heart of this crisis. In a recent assessment from the Central Ground Water Board in India found that of the 447 billion cubic metres of groundwater which is replenished each year, some 228 billion cubic metres of this is used for agricultural irrigation. It also says that just 25 billion cubic metres are used for domestic, drinking and industrial use.
The situation is no better across the country as every state has its own problems to deal with. In a recent report released by the government of India, it is said that major metropolitan city such as Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad could run out of groundwater completely by 2020.
Although the majority of the states have water conservation legislation, poor data management, a lack of water pricing, wasteful irrigation techniques and a lack of adequate sewage treatment are all hindering India’s ability to sustainably manage water. The government also warned that by 2030, 40% of Indians will be without access to fresh drinking water which is indeed an alarming situation.
A Threat to Companies?
With the water crisis looming large, there is a definite pressure on the companies to handle their water issues by constructing water treatment plants and rainwater harvesting pits to collect rainwater which can be used when in need. Similarly, the companies are now looking for sustainable ways to conserve water so that it does not affect their daily operations.
For instance, in its 2018 CDP disclosure, biopharmaceuticals company Pfizer Inc reported that “a lack of infrastructure and government policies and poor management has resulted in a reduced supply of water from local municipal water systems. “This has resulted in the need to augment site water supplies by bringing in water by truck.” While such measures are helping companies in the short-term, sustainable longer-term solutions will be needed to effectively tackle the growing problem and ensure that companies are not only building their own resilience but contributing to water security.
A global solution for a global problem?
Despite the awareness created, companies are now looking at reducing the count of water trucks they rely on. Thereby reducing the water withdrawals. It is reported that between 2015-2018, there was a 50% rise in water withdrawals as most of the companies are into Food and Beverages, Manufacturing and Mineral extraction which often requires more water to operate efficiently on a daily basis.
Call for Corporate Action
It has to be agreed that we have been undervaluing our water sources. But, looking at the magnitude of the crisis that we are set to experience in no less than two years, it’s time for every one of us to step up and deliver what is expected of us.
Incidentally, every three out of four jobs depend on stable water supplies. In other words, building a water secure future is essential for our economy and society. And with industry accounting for some 19% of global water withdrawals and 70% more coming from agricultural supply chains, companies have a massive role to play in protecting our vital water supplies for current and future generations. The first step for companies is to monitor and manage their water supplies and undertake a comprehensive risk assessment.
So, it’s vital for companies to find sustainable ways to conserve water for generations to come. Before that happens, companies should have a strong strategy to counter the crisis as there is no time left for us to react if not today.