Parched earth and shrinking rivers: WaterAid releases list of water-scarce regions to watch

WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

 Based on current rates of access to water and unsustainable water usage, these are countries where the poor will suffer most
• List of water-scarce nations comes ahead of global review of UN Sustainable Development Goal for progress on water

Cities and villages in northern and central India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, southern Madagascar and southern Mozambique are facing acute water scarcity threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions, new analysis by WaterAid shows.

Based on NASA satellite imagery released earlier this year, the analysis also examines current rates of access to water for rural and urban areas in most-affected regions.

While other areas such as northern Australia and California also face serious depletion of groundwater, it is the world’s poorest regions and nations which will feel the strongest impact, as their people already have low levels of access to clean water close to home.

Due to climate change, India has experienced extreme weather events in past few years – excessive rainfall, increased incidence of floods and droughts. Every year, lack of access to clean water adversely affects the quality of life, particularly of the poorest, further setting them back. The most marginalised people who have contributed least to climate change are impacted the most.

Avinash Kumar, Director- Programmes & Policy at WaterAid India, said:

“The government needs to approach the issue in a holistic manner by ensuring stringent measures to reduce pollution of water bodies, prevent excessive exploitation of groundwater, promote water recharge measures such as rainwater harvesting, treat wastewater and promote its use for non-critical services and ensure climate resilient water sector planning.

Schemes like AMRUT and Har Ghar Jal are steps in the right direction to ensure piped water access to every household but India has a long way to go to ensure that the installed taps do not run dry soon.

Ahead of the world leaders meet in New York in July to review the UN Sustainable Development Goal on water, India needs to step up its efforts to ensure access to clean water for the poorest and most marginalised.”

Regions and countries where access to water is most at risk include:

1. Northern and central India. In India, 163 million people are without access to clean water close to home, or 15% of all rural residents and 7% of all urban residents. As per Unicef-WHO Joint Monitoring Programme, clean water refers to water from an improved source, collected within a 30 minute round trip. The country accounts for one-fourth of the total groundwater extracted globally, more than the water extracted by China and the United States combined. Severe groundwater depletion in the north and central India, already home to some of the poorest communities, further threatens their access to water.

2. Bangladesh. Despite almost-annual monsoon flooding, fresh water that is safe to drink is an increasingly precious commodity, from depleted groundwater sources, dwindling rainfall and rising seas that leave groundwater saline. Official statistics show that 4.3 million people are without access to water close to home; however, this number is likely larger when salinity of groundwater and naturally occurring arsenic, which is estimated to pollute a further 12.5% of household water sources, are factored in.

3. Myanmar. Increasingly intense hot dry seasons, a decrease in rainfall and depletion of groundwater are contributing to annual water scarcity in Myanmar. Some 17.5 million people in the country are without access to clean water close to home, including almost 40% of rural residents.

4. Southern Mozambique. Like nearby Cape Town, Mozambique’s capital of Maputo and surrounding area are facing acute water shortages, with rolling service cuts and rationing already in place, following failed rains and heavy use by large-scale agriculture. Some 14.7 million people in the country are already without access to clean water close to home.

5. Southern Madagascar. This African island nation’s southern region has faced both severe drought and torrential flooding, which has taken a severe toll on communities. Only half of the country’s inhabitants have access to clean water close to home, leaving 12 million people without access.

Toilet Facts

44 per cent of the total population in India still defecate in the open.

Open defecation causes chronic diarrhoea that leads to stunting.