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Leaving no one behind

The term, “leaving no one behind”, has been mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG)

Leaving no one behind

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  27 April 2022 3:39 AM GMT

Ramani Kanta Thakuria

(The author is the former Chief Scientist, Chief Scientist, Water Management, Assam Agricultural University, Jorhat. Currently, he is working as a Principal Scientist at Khanapara Campus, AAU, Guwahati-22. thakuriark@gmail.com)

The term, "leaving no one behind", has been mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) - a UN declaration specifically made after Millennium Development Goal (MDG) in 2015 for meeting the needs of people by the year-2030. The Declaration states that nobody in the society irrespective of differences in race, colour, sex, language, or religion should be barred from achieving their potential and their fair share in progress. It was also stressed that everyone in society should be able to live in dignity. SDG 6 is related to water with a similar objective to ensure the availability and sustainable use of water for all by 2030. In the context of water as a fundamental item of any living being, livelihood, food security and sustainable development, "leaving no one behind" is very much crucial. Gradual increase in demand for water especially due to rapid population growth, faster urbanization, large industrialization and changing lifestyles has made it more crucial and challenging. Thus, uniform and ensured availability of such a critical item for the future is of due concern.

"Leaving no one behind" in case of availability of water presently is considered to be a moral, social and economic issue as billions of people are still living without safe water. Data indicate that by the year 2025, about 3 billion people will be in the water stress category with 1700 m3 of available water per capita per year (on a scale of 500m3-absolute scarce, 500-1000m3-scarcity and 1000-1700m3-stress). Presently, about 2.1 billion people in the world are living without safe water at home, more than 700 children below five years of age die every day due to the use of unsafe water and poor sanitation, eight out of ten households need to use water collected by girls or women from its distant sources, around 159 million people collect their drinking water from surface water either ponds or stream and around 4 billion people of world experience severe water scarcity during at least one month of the year.

The benefits of "leaving no one behind" with respect to water are immense as per capita availability of water determines everything of one's lifestyle from dressing to food habits, sanitation, health etc. The newer terms like marginal water, virtual water, water footprint etc., may be mentioned in this regard. The important aspect of an equal share of water is to identify the magnitude of populations who continue to be left behind. They are generally a marginalized population covering women, children, refugees, indigenous and disabled people and many others. The evidence shows that achieving the target to "leave no one behind" especially on the waterfront are tough job and shall be tougher over time. Water as a commodity of finite in its volume will vary in its availability with time. Its quality, as well as competitive demand by different sectors along with population increase, is again going to intensify the severity of the situation in coming years. Globally, the potential availability of water decreased from 12900 m3 per capita per year in 1970 to 9000 m3 in 1990, less than 7000 m3 in 2000 and is projected to hit as low as 5100 m3 per capita by the year 2025. In densely populated Asia, Africa, and Central and southern Europe, current per capita water availability is even much lesser ranging between 1200-5000m3.

From a national perspective, India is having only 4 per cent of total global water and needs to support 17 per cent of the human and 15 per cent of the livestock population of the world. Out of the total annual precipitation of 4000-billion cubic metres (BCM), the utilizable water resources of the country have been assessed as 1123 BCM, of which 690 BCM is from surface water and 433 BCM from groundwater sources. The projected total water demand of 1447 BCM in 2050 will cross the present level of utilizable water resources (1123 BCM) out of which 1047 BCM will be for agriculture alone. Since the total projected demand will be 324 BCM more than the present level of utilizable water resources, the options to address the situation will be more production from less water by efficient use of utilizable water resources in irrigated areas, productivity enhancement of challenged ecosystem, utilization of a part of greywater for agriculture production and recharging of groundwater from runoff water.

Assam is endowed with vast water resources. High rainfall (annual average is about 2250 mm), and the presence of large numbers of rivers and other water bodies with rich groundwater aquifers in the state signifies the vastness of the water resources. The state has two big river systems viz. the Brahmaputra and the Barak with 73 important tributaries of the Brahmaputra River and 11 tributaries of the Barak River. Surface water resource in terms of area coverage by rivers and other water bodies in the state is estimated to be about 8251 sq. km. This is 10.5 per cent of the total geographical area of the state. The groundwater potentiality of the state is also very rich. The state has the potential of about 28.52 BCM of replenishable groundwater of which 90.42 per cent (25.79 BCM) is available for utilization. The net draft of groundwater is very low only 3.49 BCM. Thus, the stage of groundwater development for the state is very low only about 14 per cent. This gives a very high per capita annual water availability value in comparison to the national average of about 1700 m3. Although the overall availability of water in the state is very high, because of spatial and temporal variability of rainfall there is variability in the actual per capita availability over time and place. Spatial variation of rainfall indicates that availability is the lowest in the Hilly zone and the highest in the Barak valley zone. In the same agro-climatic zone itself, there is significant variation in the availability of water.

Among the various uses in the state, the trend in water use for irrigation purposes is increasing. Presently, only about 50 per cent of the cultivated area of the state is under double cropping. To bring all the cultivated area under double cropping or more than that, all the cultivated area will need to be provisioned with irrigation facilities resulting in higher irrigation water demand in the state. If the whole cultivable area is brought under irrigation and all the created potential is utilized, the issue of sustainability in water use would be of prime concern. Apart from the irrigation, the second most important aspect of water use is the domestic need for water for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing etc. In Assam, the population is increasing at a faster rate recording a decadal growth rate of about 17 per cent from 2001-to 2011. According to the population census of India, in 2011; the total population of the state was 3.12 crore against the 0.80 crores in 1951. If such a rate of population growth persists, the requirement for water to meet the domestic demand would be very high. The domestic requirement of water for the urban population is generally high because of improved lifestyles and changed food habits. In Assam, the proportion of the urban population increased from 12.9 per cent in 2001 to 14.0 per cent in 2011. This again indicates more requirements for water in future. Details estimate for the projected demand for water for the state is insufficient. However, a gross demand of 62.4 BCM for the year 2050 has been estimated for meeting domestic, industrial and irrigation needs etc.

Approaches for sustainable use of water are always essential for any geographical entity and need to be adopted suitably on priority for "leaving no one behind" for the state. In Assam, rainwater management includes the development and utilization of micro-level water resources, adoption of suitable cropping systems, adoption of proper irrigation schedule to match spatial and temporal behaviour of water availability, design and utilization of micro-irrigation systems; groundwater management including utilization of groundwater on the basis of aquifer characteristics and recharging of groundwater in the over-exploited area; canal water management including improved conveyance and application of irrigation water system, multiple uses of irrigation water, conjunctive use of rain, canal and groundwater; and on-farm water management with the proper transfer of technology are some of the examples of approaches for sustainable water use.

Like other issues, sustainable use of water requires proper planning like an assessment of the available water resources first and then deciding how best it can be used. Sustainability also remains in better co-operation between all water stakeholders. The success or failure of "leaving no one behind" will be judged whether all persons are being covered or not. What is more important is a distinct pathway to reach all the people. Any inaction or deficiency in action in this aspect will result differently.

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