2020 in addressing water scarcity in a virtual summit called by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)


At a virtual summit called by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), panelists discussed how water scarcity in India affects economic growth and human development.

The panel included Head of SATO, Erin McCusker, Anup Pandey, former Chief Secretary Government of Uttar Pradesh State, Ankit Gupta, Chairman of CII in Uttar Pradesh State, VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, WaterAid India and Dr. Rajendra Singh - the “Water Man of India”.

There is little doubt that the availability of water deeply affects economic, social and human development. Today India has over 18% of the world’s population, with only 4% of the world’s renewable water resources and 2.4% of the world’s land area. India is also one of the 10 major water users in the world, in terms of volume, using 646 cubic kilometers of water a year.

Poor water resource management, wide temporal and spatial climate change and pollution have created a critical situation in several parts of the country. A recently released report by the Indian think tank NITI Aayog reveals that about 600 million people in India are facing high to extreme water stress, making the country water distressed. Frequent droughts and floods are adversely impacting over 50% of India’s rain-fed agriculture. With 80% of water basins being stressed, the country’s groundwater in some places is declining by as much as 3 feet per annum.

The average annual per capita water availability in 2001 and 2011 in India stood at about 1820 cubic meters and 1545 cubic meters respectively. This figure is expected to reduce to 1341 and 1140 by 2025 and 2050 respectively, according to the Press Information Bureau of India. The rapid increase in water demand triggered by population growth, urbanization and changing lifestyles poses a serious water security challenge to India. Estimates show that by 2030 the country’s water demand is likely to be twice the available supply translating into an eventual GDP loss of about 6%.

The CII Uttar Pradesh Water Summit 2020 stressed the need for designing a national water management strategy, making investments in water infrastructure, adopting advanced technologies, creating new water sources, adopting principles of circular economy and implementing innovative water management solutions.

Dr. Pandey warned of “a national calamity” if the groundwater issues are not addressed. Dr. Pandey quoted a study by NITI Aayog in 2018 which revealed that India is placed 120 amongst 122 countries in the water quality index. “Most states have less than 50% score in the recharging of groundwater, highlighting a growing national crisis,” he said.

According to the study, 21 major cities across the country will run out of groundwater by 2020, Dr. Pandey observed.

VK Madhavan, Chief Executive, WaterAid India said the country needs to recognize there’s a massive water quality problem in the country. “We have a problem with bacteria contamination, we also have a growing problem with nitrates. To solve the issue, we need to invest in water quality surveillance, and also ensure there’s the transparency of data so that citizens have a way of understanding the nature of the problem,” he added.

The SATO difference

McCusker highlighted SATO’s innovative solutions that not only create a safer and more hygienic environment but also save water.

SATO offers a range of affordable innovative products for toilets, as well as the newly launched SATO hand washing station, the SATO Tap. “Our products are focused on addressing household challenges such as access to toilets and hygiene solutions, increasing the level of sanitation hygiene available at the household level, institute behavior change, and importantly, help reduce water usage,” McCusker said.

“Finally, we seek to reduce the environmental contamination that exacerbates many of these specific challenges being addressed in this forum,” she added.

One example is the SATO solution for latrines, which has a trapdoor that reduces odors and reduces flies or other contaminants, but importantly, also uses a lot less water. SATO toilets typically require one liter of water for flushing compared to up to six liters for traditional toilet systems.

“Installed on a large scale, these reductions in water consumption start to see communities placing less of a burden on valued water resources. Ultimately, the infrastructure problem improves, groundwater recharges, and many of the challenges being addressed here also start to decrease,” McCusker said.

Working within the context of broad public-private partnerships, McCusker believes the water and sanitation challenges facing India and the rest of the world can be resolved. “We can start to take action now: run innovation, policy, infrastructure and the coalition-building that's needed to reduce water consumption, promote water reuse, reduce groundwater contamination through better sanitation and we will start to have these impacts add up. Ideally, over time, we can start to reverse some of this pressure on water resources,” she added.

Jason Cardosi, Chief of Global Partnerships at SATO hosted the Panel Discussion on Innovative Products, Services & best practices in Water & Water Waste Management. He noted globally that 2.2 billion people lack access to clean drinking water while 4 billion lack basic sanitation facilities.

But challenges create incentives for innovations. “Challenges are indeed design parameters for innovation, whether technological, ideas, policies or blueprints,” Cardosi said.

Such an initiative from SATO is a public dashboard aggregating data from multiple sources from all over the country from which anyone can access and use it easily. “This has helped catalyze behavior change in India and also provided inspiration to other governments such as Nigeria and Tanzania, which have also launched their national campaigns,” said Cardosi.

Sanjay Gupta, Head of Advisory Services at CII Triveni Water Institute highlighted several ways in which India can move forward to being water positive through a holistic approach. These include increasing water use efficiency, watershed management, water audits and water conservation initiatives and watershed assessment.