This write up has special reference to present Kerala situation of acute water shortage for drinking and domestic purposes. The water scarcity situation may be even more acute in other states; but discussing about it in one of the prominent states gives people a better idea as to how they should approach the same problem anywhere in the country or even the world. The water scarcity situation in Kerala is one of most bizarre type when we consider that among all the states in India Kerala receives the highest average annual rainfall of 3107 mm amounting to 703,000,000,000 m3 per year compared to the all-India average of 1,197 mm (270,837,141,936 m3) per year. In addition to this high rainfall rate the state is blessed with 44 rivers of which 41 are flowing and watering through the whole length of the width of the state from North to South before they join some lakes connected with some estuaries or the Arabian Sea. In spite of this abundant source of water Kerala is reeling under severe water scarcity this year. What are the reasons for this anomaly? There is no immediate solution to the water problem but a proper situational analysis is required even to understand the water problem and to solve them in the long run because the problem was created over a period of fifty to sixty years. Many are the reasons for the present water scarcity in Kerala and most of them arise from an unjust situational and behavioural pattern created by the people of Kerala themselves.
First of all there is an increased use of water by people due to population increase. The Kerala population increased from 15.6 million in 1950 to 29.1 million in 1991 and further to 33.3 million in 2011. Present (2017) estimated population of Kerala is 34.5 million. The population of the state increased more than double but the rainfall pattern in the state remained the same if not decreased due to many reasons. Hence increase in population is a key factor in increasing the domestic use of water in Kerala. People in Kerala did not sufficiently take into consideration this population increase decade by decade: an unjust negligence.
Secondly, the water connections for non-domestic, institutional, industrial, and municipal and village users have increased tremendously as the years passed by. A coco cola or soft drink factory consumes huge quantities of water. Similarly the tourism and hotel industry require a lot of water. Food processing industry and the ubiquitous rubber processing units at the local level consume a lot of water. Water is essential for thousands of hospitals and health clinics. These are examples of unjust over use of water. Such list of additional usage of water is endless.
Thirdly 80% of the rainfall in Kerala occurs within six months from May to October and the rest of the six months only about 20% of the rainfall occurs creating a huge imbalance in the distribution of rainfall and the ground water recharge in most of the areas of the state except districts like Alapuzha, Ernakulum, Kottayam, Idukki, Pathanamthitta and Thiruvananthapuram though in the last few years even in these districts rainfall is on the decline in the months between November to April. The people of Kerala have not thought of means and ways to store the excess rainy season water to store for lean season: an unjust negligence.
The fourth reason is ground water potential of Kerala is very low as compared to many other states in the country. The estimated ground water balance is 5590 million m³. Dug wells are the major ground water extraction structure in Kerala. The dug wells have a maximum depth of about 10 to 15 meters and have a diameter of about 1 to 2 meters in coastal region and 2 to 6 meters in the midland and high land. The open well density in Kerala is perhaps the highest in the country – 200 wells per sq.km in the coastal region, 150 wells per sq.km in the midland and 70 wells per sq.km in the high land. The ground water level in these wells recedes every year drastically during the summer months and drying up of most of the wells is a common feature. Probably nothing can be done to mitigate this situation except following the age old example of Rajasthan people who made the non-permeable well to store rain water.
The fifth reason is the recharge rate of groundwater is becoming less and less. The main reason for this reduction is the destruction of perennial forests in the hills and mountains of the state from where all the rivers originate. According to the principle of environment management all the slopes steeper than 1:3 ratio (1 ft vertical cut and 3 ft horizontal) should be strictly maintained under perennial virgin forests. Anyone can make a vertical cut of one foot anywhere on a slope and remove the soil horizontally at the base of the cut to get a flat area; if he gets a flat area of 3 feet then it is 1:3 or 33.3 percent slope (vertical/horizontal x 100). Reforest all the areas having less than 1:3 ratio (lesser the ratio greater the degree of slope). All the lands having more slopes than 1:3 whether public or private should be put under perennial forests. Virgin forests in vast areas of the slopes greater than 1:3 in the state, are destroyed and are being cultivated for several decades causing very high level of soil erosion and less and less level of recharge of rain water into the soil: most unjust and deadly human interference into the eco-system not only in Kerala but all over the world.
The sixth reason is the large scale drying up of the numerous water-springs which emanate from the folds, corners and depressions of the landscape of the hills and mountains in the Western Ghats all along the length of Kerala. These springs are the source of water for the many streams that form the tributaries of the 44 rivers in the state. Drying up of the water-springs in the mountain ranges is associated with deforestation and destruction of the original spring-generating forest-eco-system around the area of each water-spring. The author of this write up has noticed over the years the drying up of hundreds of springs in many hilly and mountainous areas of Kerala including his own native place. Many of those springs were active for thousands of years teeming with all kinds of small aquatic plants, fishes and animals. As the vegetative area (habitat) around each water-spring was cleared for cultivation and human habitation, those springs also dried up slowly. As a result the streams which depended on those water-springs also dried up. Most of the mountain streams dry up soon after the monsoon because the springs that feed them dried up; all the springs dried up because there is no recharge or percolation of water into the soil surrounding areas of the water-spring; there is no recharge or penetration of rain water into the soil because all the vegetation in the area around those springs were destroyed . Any area, with slopes steeper than 1:3 or if possible or above 1:5 slope should be left as virgin forest. Only then there will be more percolation of rain water into the forest and mountain soils and there will be many perennially active water-springs in the mountain ranges to feed the streams in the mountains. Therefore it is most crucial to preserve by all means all the water-springs in all the folds, corners and depressions of the middle and high ranges of Kerala.
Seventh reason is the reduction or stoppage of wetland paddy cultivation in most parts of the state. Wet land paddy cultivation encourages percolation of lot of water into the soil to maintain high amount of moisture into the soil. Due to many valid economic reasons most of the farmers stopped paddy cultivation in Kerala even in the low lying lands of Kuttanad which was the bread basket of state for centuries. Paddy cultivation in 1970-71 was 8,80,000 hectares; since then there was a steady decline in the area under paddy cultivation, from 8,50,000 hectares in 1980–81 to 5,60,000 hectares in 1990–91 and further by 2007-08 the area was reduced to 2,30,000 hectares. Today rubber dominates Kerala agriculture. The low-lying paddy lands are great storages of water in the nature. If paddy cultivation is uneconomical people in Kerala should go for fish and aquaculture business after restructuring the same.
The eighth reason is reduction or filling up of inland water bodies such as inundated river banks, lakes, ponds, marshy and waterlogged areas, low and flooding lands, and the reduction of the areas under many lakes in the state. The biggest backwater lake the Vembanad with an area of 260 sq.km, Ashtamudi the next biggest covering an area of 55 sq km and Sasthamkota the largest fresh water lake of the state are slowly getting shrunk in area from all around by the stealthy encroachment. Other important backwater-lakes in the state are Veli, Kadhinamkulam, Anjuthengu(Anjengo), Edava, Nadayara, Paravoor, Kayamkulam, Kodungallur (Cranganore) and Chetuva. All are getting reduced in area slowly and steadily both by public and private stealthy encroachers. The deltas of the rivers interlinking the backwaters providing excellent inland waterways along the lower and coastal areas of the state are also getting filled up. From the ecological point of view all the natural water bodies should be preserved in depth, width and length along with all types of flora and fauna in them. Kerala neglected this crucial aspect of the management inland water bodies: invisible injustice.
The ninth reason for the acute water shortage is type of constructions by way of flats, roads, bridges, shopping complexes, industrial centres in the low lying areas of Kerala. First of all such constructions should not be done in low lying and waterlogged areas: One of the principles of environmental management is never to disturb the waterlogged and low lying areas in a country. If it is necessary to use such areas for construction of buildings then the people of Netherlands are good examples in the management of waterlogged area for building residential and agricultural systems. They all can be constructed but with an environment friendly and strictly eco-system-preserving designs meticulously implemented without corruption and strict waste management components. Huge flats can be constructed on huge platforms supported by a series of deep struck columns and pillars marshy and waterlogged areas without disturbing the eco-system of the place. Both solid and liquid waste management should be strictly implemented and maintained. In short filling up of any water bodies in any country will result in the water scarcity.
Tenth reason is the lackadaisical way of implementing the water supply system in the state. People complain constantly about poor or even no water supply almost every day for months and years. Dozens of drinking water schemes in the state are pending for years. As per Press Trust of India report on 22nd June 2016, a t present, Kerala Water Authority has 185 ongoing projects worth Rs 2,040.33 crore under various stages of progress and an amount of Rs 1,188.45 crore more is required to complete these projects. No one knows when the government will release the funds and these projects will be completed; often the half completed projects get rusted and ruined leaving the people high and dry. Such endless delays are also common not only in the case of drinking water schemes but also in the case of irrigation and hydro-electric generation projects. Political interference, delay due to frequent change of hands, swindling and misuse of allotted finance and red-tapism are some of the common bottle necks of the water supply system for domestic and non-domestic use.
(The writer is Retired Professor, Envt & Natural Resource Mngmnt with Justice, XIM. Bhubaneswar. Email. email@example.com)#(Published on 05th June 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 23)