PINTU KUMAR MAHLA & SHIVENDRA SHANDILYA
The biggest concern of our time is the issue of water. Across the globe, water problems are having a profound impact on humanity, the environment, and economies. Lack of access to adequate amounts of water at the appropriate times can lead to catastrophic consequences for both large and small communities. To address this, the World Bank also released a report titled "What the Future Has in Store: A New Paradigm for Water Storage," which highlights the importance of water storage and the need for sustainable water management in the years to come.
For thousands of years, humans have relied on water storage solutions such as household wells, reservoirs, dams, tanks, and other constructed systems, along with natural sources like mountain glaciers, coastal floodplains, wetlands, and aquifers, to regulate and increase the amount of accessible water to meet freshwater needs. These solutions are crucial for providing drinking water, sustenance, transportation, recreation, and generating hydropower while also reducing the damage caused by floods. However, we now face a crucial moment. The global population has doubled in the last 50 years and accompanying economic growth has resulted in a rapidly growing demand for water. By 2050, As the United Nations World Water Development Report 2021 on “Valuing Water” stated that water usage is projected to increase by 20 to 30 per cent compared to today. At a time when the world needs more storage, the amount of available water storage is decreasing, primarily due to the loss of natural storage and compounded by inadequate investment in maintaining built storage, which exacerbates overall vulnerability.
The growing concern over the water storage gap can be seen in the progress made by India in storing water resources. For instance, the ministry of water resources stated that at the time of independence, India had 15.6 billion cubic meters (bcm) of live storage capacity. Presently, The Central Water Commission (CWC) is overseeing the status of 140 reservoirs, which have a total capacity of holding 175.957 billion cubic meters (bcm) of water. This constitutes about 68.25 per cent of the estimated total live storage capacity of 257.812 bcm across the country. But increasing water storage capacity has become imperative to avert an imminent water crisis in India. Similarly, China is also grappling with the issue of water scarcity, given the country's inadequate freshwater resources in proportion to the surging population. To address this challenge, as per the International Commission on Large Dams (ICOLD)data, China has been actively expanding its water storage facilities, as evidenced by the construction of over 20,000 dams with a height greater than 15 meters since the 1950s, including the world's largest hydropower station, the Three Gorges Dam situated on the Yangtze River.
However, climate change is causing serious concerns on water storage. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicated that 74 per cent of natural disasters between 2001 and 2018 were related to water, such as droughts and floods. These events are expected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change. However, enhancing the planning and management of water storage is not just about addressing climate change. Ensuring dependable water services is a crucial aspect of socioeconomic development, and is essential for achieving SDG 6, which aims to provide clean water and sanitation for all. The latest progress report on the SDGs (2021) indicates that Approximately 25 per cent of the global population lacks access to safe drinking water, and it is projected that by 2030, around 108 nations will not have sustainable water resources.
Further, the state of current large-scale water storage systems is a cause for concern. For instance, as per the UNU-INWEH Report on “Ageing Water Storage Infrastructure: An Emerging Global Risk 2021”, it has been reported that over 1,115 large dams will reach 50 years of age by 2025, with some reaching 150 years of service by 2050. One of the key issues in this regard is the sedimentation of reservoirs, caused by dams blocking the flow of rivers, which decreases storage capacity and deteriorates dam infrastructure over time. In one of the studies, it has been stated that losing water storage in large dams due to sedimentation would pose a significant challenge for Asia in the future.
The need for a well-functioning water storage system is becoming increasingly pressing as dams are aging and the impacts of climate change are exacerbating the situation. It is crucial for practitioners from both public and private sectors to prioritize integrated and smart water storage solutions that cater to various human, economic, and environmental needs. Closing the water storage gap requires a collective effort from multiple economic sectors and stakeholders to develop and implement holistic, effective, and efficient solutions. Investing in a new approach to water storage will lay the foundation for sustainable development, climate action, and resilience, benefiting populations, economies, and the planet for years to come.
(Pintu Kumar Mahla is a Research Scholar at the Department of National Security Studies, Central University of Jammu. And Shivendra Shandilya is a Research Scholar at the Department of Public Policy and Public Administration, Central University of Jammu)