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Impact of industrial expansion on water availability

By Ranjan K Panda

Demand for water from the domestic sector is expected to rise from 25 billion m3 to 52 billion m3 over the next 20 years. However, water consumption in the industrial sector is rising at 4.2% per year, and will shoot from 67 billion m3 to 228 billion m3 by 2025. State governments such as Orissa’s, which are signing MoU after MoU with industry, citing a surplus water situation in their state, need to think of the consequences of this industrial overdrive on availability of water in the future

As Orissa continues in industrial overdrive, with the signing of countless MoUs with water-guzzling companies, there is still no clarity on the exact amount of water available in the state. The government maintains that Orissa is a “water surplus” state, although the statistics used in various government reports date back to 2001, which is when industrialisation really took off in Orissa.

Indeed, it is time the government came out with a transparent position paper on water availability in the state, if it doesn’t want conflicts over water to escalate.

The surplus water mantra that the Orissa government is chanting is a myth, says the civil society coalition Water Initiatives Orissa (WIO). The so-called surplus is being derived from the fact that Orissa, despite covering less than 5% of India’s geographical area, houses 11% of its water resources. While there are no substantial records available on exactly how much water is available, the annual report of the Orissa government’s Water Resources Department quotes per capita water availability (2001 figures) at 3,359 cubic metres (cum) per year, compared to the national average of 1,820 cum.

However, industrial activity in Orissa speeded up post-2001, with most industries being water-intensive. What’s more, climate change is taking a heavy toll on water availability in the state. This figure therefore does not hold good anymore.

If we consider the reduction in per capita availability of water in the country (national average), it has dropped from 5,177 cum in 1961 to 1,820 (in 2001) -- almost 65%. In the current year, the national average dropped further to 1,650 cum (according to U N Panjiar, Secretary, Government of India), a further reduction of 10%. By this yardstick, Orissa’s per capita water availability must have declined to about 3,000 cum by the last year. In a changing climate situation, this will drop further.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that by 2025, the average per capita availability of water will be less than 1,000 cum -- that’s another 40% fall.

Going by these simple calculations, Orissa’s average water availability will be around 1,800 cum in another 14 years! And considering the kind of industry the state is promoting, the figure could actually be still less, making it even more important to carry out a proper assessment of the water scenario in the state.

A 2007 Asian Development Bank report, which has been approved by the government, says: “Allowing 30% for environmental demand (in-stream flow needs), the data illustrates that at present the amount of water being utilised represents about 60% of what is dependably generated within the state. Similarly, with respect to groundwater, allowing 40% for environmental demand, presently about 70% is being utilised.” That means Orissa was left with only 40% of its utilisable water resources in 2007.

Reports suggest that demand for domestic water supply will rise much slower than demand in the industrial sector. Going by the national average, demand from the domestic sector accounts for only 5% of annual freshwater withdrawals in India. Demand from the domestic sector over the next 20 years is expected to increase from 25 billion m3 to 52 billion m3. However, industrial production in India has increased following liberalisation and a greater emphasis on industrial development and international trade. Water consumption in this sector will continue to grow at a rate of 4.2% per year. According to the World Bank, demand for water for industrial, energy production and other uses will rise from 67 billion m3 to 228 billion m3 by 2025.

The figures for Orissa are not clearly available. Looking at the annual report of the Water Resources Department, one only notes that the industrial requirement cap was fixed at 0.706 cum in 2001. It was extended to 1.95 cum by 2051 -- an almost three-fold increase. But this is only the cap; there are no figures available on how much has already been extracted.

What’s more worrying in Orissa is the mechanism for groundwater allocation. In the absence of any groundwater regulation in the state, “assessment” of availability by the state unit of the Central Ground Water Board is widely confused with “allocation”.

Considering the quick shrinking of areas under drinking water coverage in Orissa, and the vast irrigation potential still to be created, the state will find it very difficult to manage the water situation in the coming years. If it is to adhere to its own water policy, it must provide drinking water to all rural and urban habitations; irrigation to all crop fields; and maintain a minimum base flow in all rivers. The present definition of “surplus water” does not factor in all these calculations. There is simply not enough water to justify giving it away to industry.

The United Nations warns that by 2025, two-thirds of the world will face a severe water shortage if the current pattern of water consumption continues. Global consumption of water is doubling every

20 years, more than twice the rate of human population growth. At present, over 1 billion people on earth lack access to fresh drinking water. By the year 2025, the demand for fresh water is expected to rise 56% above what the currently available water can deliver if present trends persist. Regions where renewable fresh water availability is below 1,700 cubic metres/capita/annum are termed “water stress” regions; regions where availability falls below 1,000 cubic metres/capita/annum experience chronic “water scarcity”. Going by the simple statistics, therefore, Orissa is going to be a “water stress” region by 2015, and a “water scarcity” region in a few more years, says WIO.

Orissa must heed these warnings. In fact, WIO has predicted that the state will become water stressed between 2015 and 2020. It’s time the government recognised the threat and came out with a white paper detailing the exact availability of water in the state, and current and future requirements of all sectors keeping in mind growth projections and the risks of climate change.

(Ranjan K Panda is an Orissa-based researcher and writer)

Infochange News & Features, September 2010