DALLAS, Texas — In the past few decades, India has grown to have one of the most active economies in the world. In 2020, its nominal GDP, a measure of economic health, helped propel India to outpace countries such as France and the United Kingdom. This occurred after the IMF identified India as having the fifth largest economy globally. Companies like Microsoft and Amazon have outsourced some of their work to the nation, which has contributed to the country’s presence in the global economy. However, this rise of economic prosperity has led to problems as well. Pollution has managed to severely contaminate one of India’s most vital resources: water.
The State of Water in India
Water pollution in India has grown significantly as a result of a rapidly developing economy and subsequently growing population. In 2015, the country’s central pollution control board found that the number of polluted rivers and water sources more than doubled in five years. Industrial waste and regular trash have consistently been dumped into waterways. This has not only affected visible waterways but also groundwater. As it stands, water pollution compounds the danger of water scarcity, which new procedures have sought to address. National authorities have labeled about 30% of India’s “6,584 groundwater units” as largely overexploited.
Research found that chemicals such as arsenic have increased in groundwater sources, which could potentially result in rising cases of neurological and cardiovascular disease. In particular, the state of Bihar saw more than one million people die from groundwater poisoned with arsenic. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that the rapid economic growth and shift in lifestyles are to blame for the general issue of pollution. Simultaneously, due to economic strides and overall global presence, there are many ways India can address this problem.
Working with Indian Enterprises
The growth of India’s infrastructure presents the possibility of using new technological and financial advantages to tackle water pollution in India. In particular, local companies and groups have risen to the challenge of formulating solutions. With technology, new types of machines that allow for cleaner water collection and distribution to the public are rising up.
Uravu, a company established in 2017, created a solar-powered device that collects water vapors in the atmosphere. Using “hygroscopic material,” the device uses a night and day cycle to gather water. In a single day, the device can produce 50 liters of water, according to Uruvu. Considering the issues with water in streams and groundwater, using water in the air could take advantage of an untapped resource and provide for many.
Piramal Sarvajal has also worked to create new access points for water. Piramal Sarvajal is a part of the larger Piramal Foundation, and it focuses on distribution technology for water. The “social enterprise” employs one of its most impactful innovations daily: the Water ATM. These solar-powered water dispensers allow communities to access clean water. Dispensers now exist in more than 180 schools as well as in more than 340 small villages across 20 Indian states. This allows for easy availability of water for communities limited by their polluted main sources. Moreover, Piramal maintains data clouds to help ensure regular maintenance and information collection. The ability to use technology to distribute water in new ways and protect existing sources of water remains pivotal to decreasing the effects of the water crisis.
Mobilization from the Public
Alongside help from local companies and organized groups, there have also been many publicly mobilized efforts. Public protest against the frivolous use of resources has become more common in certain cases. In 2017, “traders [… boycotted] fizzy drinks” and sodas from corporate entities like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The boycott took place because these companies, which produce in India, claim clean water to manufacture their soft drinks. Many considered this to not only be a waste of resources but also dangerous. Limited water supply, particularly due to droughts, made this of particular concern.
It takes 1.9 liters of water to create “one small bottle of Coca-Cola,” estimates the director of the NGO India Resource Centre, Amit Srivastava. Coca-Cola alone has at least 58 bottling plants in the country, and many use a significant amount of water. Additionally, there is evidence of pesticides in some of the plants’ products, which has not boosted public perception. Farmers and local groups have campaigned, boycotted and protested to ensure that these companies do not waste what clean water is available.
Individual Actors Take Action
Alongside protests, there have been those who have taken it into their own hands to directly tackle water issues. Two individuals in particular, Vijay Aggarwal and Ajay Mittal, have led a civic group called Active Citizens Together for Sustainability (ACTS). The two men and the group work to install taps onto pipes in Kolkota’s slums and poor areas. Aggarwal and Mittal organized The Fix for Life campaign in the city to minimize water wastages. Many pipes aren’t properly fit with taps and gush out water indiscriminately. The Kolkata Municipal Corporation produces 450 gallons of filtered water a day at its plants. In spite of its efforts, surveys estimate that 30% of water in certain areas is lost. At least 10% of that water is lost due to tapless pipes.
By placing taps, this group is saving measurable amounts of clean water that would otherwise be wasted. Through its efforts, ACTS can fix around 30 taps in a single day. The lack of any actual data on the pipes has led to social media efforts to find pipes that need help. The group wants to bring civic awareness and help citizens act to address issues that the government’s larger-scale actions tend to miss. Citizens working on fixing small-scale issues can still do a lot to help conserve and save clean water while preventing wastefulness.
Assistance from Outside Groups
Due to India’s large population and global status, the issue of water pollution has caught the eyes of many global poverty and health organizations who have provided resources to help. Nonprofit organizations such as Water.org focus on ensuring that clean and sanitized water is available globally. These organizations closely work with local groups to find solutions. Since 2005, Water.org has disseminated information to help ensure clean water is a possibility for the future. It has partnered with 37 organizations within India to move resources. Additionally, its partners have paid out $700 million in loans with millions going to water sanitation efforts specifically.
The World Bank Group (WBG) has also helped in many ways. The NGO has put in decades of work in helping India combat poverty. It has worked with the Indian government to focus on particular areas of importance and the growing use of technology. In the case of water, the WBG has helped manage and clean the Ganga River through a $1 billion dollar plan set up by the Indian government. The plan prioritizes the treatment of polluted water.
Additionally, there is also the Dam Rehabilitation and Improvement Project, which focuses on improving the safety of dams. The World Bank also provided the Shimla Water and Sewage Loan to help improve water supply and create sustainable sewage services. In all, the organization has consistently worked to mitigate the danger of water pollution in India.
Like with many industrializing nations, the rush of India’s growth has had negative impacts on natural resources. Faster growth can lead to too many overused or damaged resources in short periods of time. In the case of India, rapid industrialization and growth have contributed serious damage to many sources of water. Individuals and companies within India are focusing on proactive ways to help provide water and do a lot for those who cannot use their normal sources. Outside organizations with resources and connections also help in organizing efforts to tackle broad issues. In short, while the situation is grim, the fact that many have worked hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel shows there is hope going forward.
– John Dunkerley