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India facing challenge of high utilization and low levels of renewable water per capita

By Jag Jivan 

Levels of water scarcity are soaring in India and other major economies, including the US and China, as annual water use has risen by around 3,500 billion m3 globally over the last century. Action to increase water circularity through global collaboration and innovation could help tackle this. Doing so will bring wider benefits -- including reducing drought risk, supporting climate goals, and advancing social development to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals - according to new research by British Standards Institute (BSI) and Waterwise.
The research, titled "Thirst for Change: Securing a Water-positive Future", notes that water provision and use contribute around 10% of global carbon emissions, while drought could affect as many as 75% of the world’s population by 2050. It sets out that action now could be as beneficial to the planet as tackling the climate crisis.
The report sets out the key steps that could have a positive impact to help society meet this challenge, including recognizing that tackling water scarcity could be a sustainability opportunity as large as reducing climate change, making it easier for consumers to choose water-saving products and embedding a circular economy mindset.
The study by BSI, the UK-headquartered global business improvement and standards company, in partnership with Waterwise, a leading voice on the efficient use of water, includes an Indicator evaluating water scarcity in 40 locations, with the US, China and India receiving the highest possible rating. Whilst water is abundant on Earth, just 0.5% is available as fresh water, and the report finds that a combination of population growth, climate change and economic development is driving demand and putting a growing, unsustainable pressure on this supply.
Yet in a positive sign, the findings come amidst recognition of the importance of water management. According to polling commissioned by BSI, two-thirds of consumers and 80% of small business leaders identified clean water and sanitation as ‘part of sustainability’, while half of the former and 44% of the latter placed it in the top five issues to focus global resources and effort on.
Jonathan Chocqueel-Mangan, Chief Strategy & Transformation Officer, BSI said: 
“Water is one of the earth’s most fundamental and precious resources. We have launched this partnership to understand more about how we can collaborate to uncover opportunities to improve water availability by providing solutions that will benefit people and the planet.
“At BSI, we understand that ensuring a water-secure future could be as big an opportunity as reducing carbon emissions. As an organization focused on driving business improvement, we hope we can have a significant positive impact on society and organizations alike by advancing this debate.”

The research identifies that using water wisely can bring important benefits, including enabling equitable global access, protecting precious habitats, and making us more resilient to climate change and drought. It makes a series of recommendations, including:
  1. Recognize water wastage as a serious challenge - acknowledge the issue and act, with utility companies leading the way to reduce network leakage.
  2. Ensure it is easy to choose water-saving products and make sustainable choices - for example, learning from countries including Australia and Singapore, which apply mandatory product water efficiency labelling systems, aligned with the relevant standard.
  3. Embrace innovation and make better use of data - smart meters have the potential to be a game changer when it comes to saving water.
  4. Encourage a water-saving culture - Prioritize protecting our planet through water management, whether that is at home or in the workplace, and across different sectors.
  5. Close the loop - Make water recycling and reuse the norm where possible, using techniques such as water recycling and water reuse in new buildings, or rainwater harvesting.
  6. Partner for impact - Collaborative effort across a wide range of players from government and regulators to the water industry and ultimately, all of us as water users can help us address the growing challenges around water availability.
Collaboration and a move towards a water-saving culture can accelerate progress. The report sets out affordable and accessible actions by individuals, organizations, and society to address water scarcity, including the increased use of smart meters and installing alternative water supply systems (rainwater harvesting, greywater recycling) or sustainable urban drainage solutions (SuDS) into new buildings.
At 3.41, India ranks high on the Water Security Indicator among 40 countries surveyed for the report. India has the highest agricultural water usage, even ahead of China. Along with China, India faces the challenge of high utilization and low levels of renewable water per capita. 
Water resources are already under pressure and vulnerable to scarcity risks, and the high leakage level of 86 litres per person per day further compounds the challenge for India. Currently, India's personal water use is relatively low, but this could leave the country highly vulnerable if personal consumption increases from the current levels. The large cities of Chennai, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore are already known to face severe water stress.
Theuns Kotze, Managing Director, Assurance, BSI India, Middle East, Turkey, and Africa, said: 
“India's relationship with water is complex and multifaceted due to the country's diverse geography, climate, population, agriculture-dependence, and socio-economic factors. Water plays a critical role in all aspects of India's society, economy, and environment. India's water challenges are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 6, which aims to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.
“A comprehensive approach involving policy reforms, community engagement, technological innovations, and responsible water management practices can help us address India's water challenges. BSI can support organizations and the government in setting standards in water management that ensure efficient utilization of this important resource.”

Nicci Russell, Chief Executive, Waterwise said: 
“Water is fundamental to life. Yet we face huge challenges across the globe in ensuring water is available for people, organizations, and the environment. The United Nations reports that a quarter of the world's population already lives in countries under water stress. It is increasingly clear that we can't go on as we have been. It is just not sustainable.
“A key part of the solution is making sure that we use the water that we do have wisely in our homes and workplaces, avoiding wastage. By doing this, we can help ensure that we adapt to the impacts of the climate emergency, reach net-zero emissions; secure water supplies for people and businesses and enhance, protect, and improve the environment.”

BSI provides support across several areas of water management, including Water Safety Plans, which is a critical foundation for effective risk management and control for all types of biological, chemical, physical, and radiological hazards. 
For example, ISO 46001, the water efficiency management systems standard enables organizations to assess and account for their water use, and to identify, plan and implement measures to achieve water savings through the systematic management of water.
Click here to download the report



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