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Ganga basin States stare at three-fold rise in crop failures by 2040

As flows decline and pollution worsens, there will be less irrigation and drinking water available in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh

The Ganga river basin could see crop failures rise three-fold and drinking water shortage go up by as much as 39% in some States between now and 2040, says an assessment commissioned by the World Bank and submitted to the Central Water Commission.

If there is no intervention, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are likely to see a deficit in irrigation water of 28%, 10%, 10% and 15% respectively in 2040 as compared to the current levels. Madhya Pradesh would see a 39%, Delhi 22% and Uttar Pradesh a 25% deficit in drinking water during the same period, the assessment released earlier this week noted.

Nation’s lifeline

The basin provides over a third of India’s available surface water and contributes more than half the national water use, of which 90% is for irrigation.

“The volume of extracted groundwater is expected to more than double, leading to an increase in the critical blocks. Low flow values in the rivers are predicted to decline compared to present levels…Water quality and environmental flow conditions already critical will deteriorate further,” the report has warned.

The report is based on a modelling study that simulates river flow, water quality and groundwater levels in the different States and regions within the Ganga river basin.

To extrapolate, the model considered land use, infrastructure, population, industry and agriculture settings as well as the precipitation and temperature settings.

The aim of the report was to strengthen the “capacity for strategic basin planning, develop a set of scenarios for the development of the Ganga basin and build a strong and accessible knowledge base.”

Declining river health

The report on the future of the Ganga basin comes at a time when experts have raised concerns over the lack of adequate safeguards to ensure the river’s health. The government has committed to reduce pollution in the Ganga by 70% by March 2019.

There aren’t any easy solutions, the report cautioned, pointing out that there is no ‘silver bullet’ intervention that can solve all problems. Combinations of different interventions such as increasing water use efficiency and implementing a ‘more job per drop’ rather than striving for wholesale crop production are needed, it said.

“The intervention that will result in the most beneficial impact is improvement of municipal waste water treatment. Whether central or de-central, whether high or low tech, reduction in pollution loads provides a positive return on investment both in availability of clean water for downstream uses, including ecosystem services, as well as a drastic reduction in water-related illnesses and deaths,” the report added.

The Ganga river basin is the most populated river basin in the world and is home to half the population of India, including two-thirds of the nation’s poor people.

Environmentalists say reducing pollution in the Ganga hinges on setting up sewage plants rather than ensuring that the natural flow of the river is not blocked, as that would hobble its propensity to clean itself.

Ecologists and river activists have embarked on a new agitation, as of Saturday in Delhi, to highlight the government’s apathy towards addressing ‘ecological flow,’ which refers to the minimum amount of water that must be maintained at all times through the year to ensure the river’s health.

The government was to have operationalised the Ganga law to address the issue of the river’s ecology. The lack of such a law has triggered hunger strikes, mainly by seers in Haridwar, to give effect to the law.

One of them, 26-year-old Aatmabodhanand, from Matri Sadan (Haridwar) is on a ‘fast unto death’ since October 24, 2018. Today is his 121st day of fast. He took up the cause after the death of Swami Sanand (Prof. G.D. Agrawal) who died after 111 days of continuous fast from Matri Sadan for the free flow of Ganges.

“Unfortunately, the government has not shown any interest in initiating any dialogue on the issue. Demonstrations, protests and fasts are taking place at various places across the country supporting the cause. Letters are also being sent to the government everyday,” said Mallika Bhanot, an activist associated with the campaign for the Ganga law.

The Centre however maintains that it has set in motion most of the projects to clean the river and that this will eventually ensure that necessary ecological flow.

Former Water resources ministry, Secretary, Shashi Shekhar said that the government’s efforts to ensure minimum flows in the river haven’t been adequate.

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