River woes in India

lord ganesha statuette submerged on body of water
Indian rivers – the source of life. Photo by Sanjib Samanta on

Water has always been an essential factor in human survival. If we revisit history, it is evident that the civilisations that had access to water sources thrived, whereas others collapsed. For instance, The Maya civilisation that flourished in Mexico was severely affected by severe periods of drought. Millions of Maya people died due to famine and lack of water. On the other hand, the Indus Valley civilisation thrived on the banks of the Indus river, after which it was named after. So, is India on the safe side now? Do you think we have plenty of water for our future generations? Let’s find out!

Being the second-largest populous country in the world, India has about 16% of the world’s population but only possesses around 4% of the world’s freshwater resources. 70% of water sources are contaminated and major rivers are severely affected by pollution. Around 256 of 700 Indian districts have reported ‘critical’ or ‘over-exploited’ groundwater levels, according to Central Groundwater Board data from 2017. It is well-evident that the nation is going through an acute water shortage crisis, and if not dealt with, the situation is predicted to worsen. 

man on body of water
How we take our rivers for granted. Photo by Ashish Kumar Pandey on
What is happening to our water sources?

Polluting our rivers

India is home to eight major river systems and around 400 rivers. The majority of the Indians, Hindus in particular, worship rivers and consider them goddesses. The rivers Ganga and Yamuna are considered the most important of all. Unfortunately, people have been littering the rivers, and sadly, river Ganga has become one of India’s most polluted rivers. According to ‘Geographical’, around three million litres of sewage is emptied into the Ganges – and only about half of that has undergone any kind of treatment.

Global warming

Global warming, which is causing glaciers to melt at alarming rates, is causing flooding in low-lying areas and later paves the way to water scarcity once the glaciers disappear. This threatens our nation as the Himalayan glaciers, the origin of significant Indian rivers, are melting at high rates. Prof.V Ramanathan, in 2019 had warned about the Himalayan glaciers being the most threatened by global warming.

Increasing population

Our vast population has severely stressed our water resources and sadly, rural areas are being ignored. Excess water consumption for agriculture also depletes the overall water table.

Deforestation & unplanned urbanisation

Deforestation is another factor that leads to the depletion of groundwater. In 2018 -2019, 17,31,957 trees were cut down in India. Also, pumping water using borewells is predicted to dry up all the groundwater in major Indian cities by 2040. Humanity is seen to be developing at the cost of the environment.

Due to globalisation, MNCs are competing for access to major water resources, causing a decrease in the water levels in many parts of India. We convert wetlands into malls and tech hubs by filling them with sand. Even airports and hospitals seem to be constructed on these lands and a few even on rivers. 

Setting an example

In January 2020, four apartments were demolished in Kochi (Kerala), as they had violated Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) norms. This action would warn builders to be more careful about following environmental rules and laws of the respective place. All governments should take this example to prevent further unplanned urbanisation, which would worsen the current ‘water problem’ the nation is going through.

Impact of water shortage on our nation

India has lost most of its lakes and rivers, integral to its beauty and heritage. In 1960, Bangalore had more than 262 lakes. Now, barely 10 have water in them. Similarly, there were 137 lakes in Ahmedabad as of 2001, with 65 of them destroyed by 2012. In the last 12 years, Hyderabad lost 3245 hectares of its wetlands. This clearly indicates that we are losing valuable water resources that cannot be compensated.

Around 100 million Indians are currently on the front lines of a nationwide water crisis. Population analysts project that, by 2050, about 60% of Indians will be living in urban areas, where there is an increasing gap between the demand and supply of fresh water. By 2030, 40% of India’s population won’t have access to safe and clean drinking water. A situation will arise where we start fighting with each other for a drop of water. 

group of schoolchildren on handmade boat
The need for reviving our rivers. Photo by Plato Terentev on
The Government’s take on the Issue

Experts state that cities may not run out of water if urban planning engages more critically with its terrain and knowledge about the local history of lakes. 

Jal Shakti Abhiyan: This mission was launched in 2019 with the aim of water conservation. By bringing together various departments and ministries that are broadly dealing with water resources and water supply, this mission hopes to ensure clean drinking water in every household by 2024. It focuses on rainwater harvesting, rejuvenating water bodies, reusing treated wastewater, and intensive afforestation. While much work couldn’t be done in 2020 and 2021 due to Covid 19 pandemic, we hope the initiative is successful in the months and years to come. 

Repair, Renovation and Restoration of water bodies: This scheme was launched to restore existing water bodies, increase the availability of drinking water, and improve agriculture/horticulture productivity. It prioritises rejuvenating the holy river Ganga as nearly 400 million people rely on it for their livelihoods. 

men rowing a wooden boat
Rivers – the lifeline of our country. Photo by Asim on
How can we be part of this change?

As I mentioned before, we can take small steps toward preserving water. Closing taps while brushing our teeth, washing utensils, fixing leaking sanitary wares, and practising rainwater harvesting can be our first steps to prevent further damage to our water resources. 

There are awareness campaigns and other activities by voluntary organisations in our society which aim to revive our lifeline, rivers. By being a part of those campaigns, we’ll be able to spread the need to change to a lot more people. Collectively actions can be taken for the good of our population.

Rally for Rivers is an initiative by the Isha Foundation led by Sadhguru. Its primary aim is to plant trees on river basins to prevent the top soil’s erosion and revive the rivers again. Since the trees will store water in their roots and allow rainwater to seep into the ground easily, it will boost groundwater. In July 2019, a major milestone of rejuvenating river Cauvery was launched officially under the name” Cauvery Calling”. The plan is to plant 242 crore trees to revitalise the Cauvery river and help farmers.

As of now, there isn’t any immediate substitute for water on Earth. It is high time for us as responsible citizens to realise the need to be part of the change by adopting more eco-friendly lifestyles and acting responsibly for ourselves and future generations. So let’s step forward and make ourselves heard before it is too late. 

Nithya AS

Contributor: Nithya AS

About our Writing Program Student
Nithya is a grade 10 student studying at Greenvalley International School, Trivandrum, Kerala. She loves reading, painting, gardening and is also a Kalaripayattu practitioner. Besides, she enjoys spending time with nature and is always keen to contribute something to the environment.


Water Crisis

The Water Project

Drinking Water – UNICEF

India’s Water Crisis

Jal Shakti

Acute Water Shortage

Rally For Rivers

Climate Change – Rivers

The Lifestyle Portal

Tanya is a graduate in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai, a post-graduate in Communications and Media from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and holds a Master's Degree in Journalis & Mass Communications from Chandigarh University. A former writing mentor and a seasoned lifestyle writer, Tanya writes columns on The Lifestyle Portal of life and living.

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