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Op-Ed: Dry 2025! How Water Will Shape The Future Of Odisha

Extraction is both a boon and bane for Odisha. While mineral extraction has become the lifeline of the economy, water extraction is the death knell. Rental economy perpetrated by the mineral industry has created a huge void in the management of natural resources and water is most basic and most vital to our existence. There is an exponential growth of bottled water industry.

Bottled water has become a major source of plastic waste choking our sewerage, our lakes, rivers and even ponds in villages. Around 1.6 litres of water, fuel and other resources are needed to get 1 litre of bottled water. Due to the temperature rise in Bay of Bengal and the resulting extreme weather conditions, the freshwater resources in Odisha are under severe strain.

In Odisha, the groundwater extraction has increased from 30% to 42% in four years – between 2013 and 2017. There is a massive increase in annual groundwater extraction but there is a reduction in annual groundwater recharge and considerable depletion in the annual extractable groundwater resources. What can the government do if we the citizens don’t care and are foolishly callous? The government has issued guidelines for all condominium complexes, individual households, commercial establishments, hotels and malls to implement rainwater harvesting scheme. But we need an enforcement agency to check on us, penalise us and then we become activists, doing our best to stop the regulatory drive. There is a study which confirms that groundwater depletion alone contributes about 0.8millimeter per year to the swelling of ocean levels. Simply put this amount to about 25% of the total rise of the oceans. Odisha is sitting on climate emergency and our response is ‘suicidal’. The groundwater loss triggers a rush of seawater into aquifers and this exacerbates freshwater shortage and water pollution. This ingression is directly affecting rural livelihoods. Loss in rural livelihoods will put strain on cities like Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Berhampur, Puri, Sambalpur, Balasore.

Dry 2025! How Water Will Shape The Future Of Odisha
Water scarcity in Odisha

The state population is 4.37 Crore. In the next 15 years, it is expected that over 17 percent of the population would be in cities (or city-bound), out of which Bhubaneswar is estimated to attract over 80 per cent of this migration. The city is already bursting at its seams now. By 2030, Bhubaneswar would house the stakeholders of the great India growth story because it will be the capital of the capital. Odisha, the projected steel & metals capital of India would be the principal provider to India’s targeted 300mt steel capacity by 2030. Due to Odisha’s bountiful resources, all the world trade houses would flock to Bhubaneswar. India launched the Jal Jeevan Mission in 2019 with a budgetary allocation of 3.6 lakh Cr. Under this scheme, about 191 million households need to be connected to piped water. In the past, we have failed targets to provide piped water to rural households. Because we depend on groundwater for all water uses and we are still grappling to understand from where do we get water for the piped water supply schemes.

In Odisha 1385 villages have 100% households with tap connections under the Har Ghar Jal initiative. This was started in 2017 with the objective of ensuring safe drinking water to all rural households. It is important to mention here that due to MGNREGA there has been an increase in groundwater recharge, soil fertility and water storage in tanks and ponds. Water infrastructure has been created with the help of MGNREGA. This needs to be sustained. More work in this has to be created.

Bhubaneswar would soon become a semi-critical zone in groundwater. Groundwater extraction has exceeded 65% and with its ever-burgeoning population of well over 1.4 million will soon cross 70% usage and become a semi-critical zone. The increase in population, the cancerous growth in concretisation and the constant destruction of Bhubaneswar is on every moment. Many like me have watched the beautiful city of Bhubaneswar turning grotesque every year. There is no meeting ground between the policymakers and the civil society. There is no civil society for that matter which is actively taking up the issue which if not tackled now, would paralyse the city someday in the near future.

The vicious concretisation ( based on money-spinning racketeering) leads to an unimaginable rise in temperature which leads to prolonged dry spells and extreme precipitation events. This is accentuated by massive deforestation. To top it all, our mindless use of water for domestic and commercial purpose has brought us to the brink of disaster. Going by the various studies on the subject, the groundwater level in the greater Bhubaneswar area (Bhubaneswar city and outskirts/peripheries) has shrunk by about 10 metres and more, since 2006. Now since the outskirts are no more out of the city limits and apartments are sprouting every day, the groundwater is mercilessly sucked out and consumed. If this situation goes unabated, by 2025, Bhubaneswar would face severe water crisis and as a result, the low-income areas, which can’t afford to buy water would experience tumultuous life. Daily life would be a struggle for water, long queues for water would bring in disruptions in peaceful life of Bhubaneswar. Laying pipes to regularised slums is one part of the problem. The bigger problem is having these taps deliver water.

Bhubaneswar requires about 435 million litres per day (MLD) at the rate of 175 litres per person per day. The groundwater can meet up to 125 MLD maximum. In the last ten years, Bhubaneswar’s water consumption has gone more than twice. This is dangerous. The health department should run a door-to-door campaign on ‘moderate water usage’. This should be supported by all the citizen associations of Bhubaneswar. Similarly, the other cities of Odisha should immediately start their drives. Boring for water has to be banned with no loopholes to flout the penalties. People consume water mindlessly, arrogantly and ignorantly. Behaviour change interventions have to be taken up under public health division in collaboration with Smart City, Housing & Urban Development and Water Resources. No one has the right to rob the most precious resource we have. Human activity has disrupted the ecosystem and the land development (in all places across Odisha and not only Bhubaneswar) is continuously removing the vegetation cover. This affects water quality and flood control, majorly. We have enough to learn from cities like New York and Los Angeles. They have implemented a watershed protection program. This typically leverages the ecosystem services of the forests (because they have maintained forest) to keep the water clean. They have avoided building costly water filtration facilities. In Odisha is won’t be difficult to nurture watershed farmers. They would then be entrusted with building water recharge and harvesting units across cities and towns.

Dry 2025! How Water Will Shape The Future Of Odisha
Water crisis

Revitalisation of rivers will reduce the city’s reliance on imported water (tanker supplies) for groundwater recharge & consumption. Revitalizing Daya river, Kathajodi and Mahanadi need urgent action. The ultimate idea is to bring community participation and betterment to the river’s revitalization plan. Otherwise, it would again give rise to another public program which has very limited life. The citizens have to get involved. Besides providing freshwater, this intervention can restore the rivers’ ecosystem including water quality control, flood mitigation and recreational/park or waterside auditorium benefits.

This is the story of Odisha and not Bhubaneswar alone. State water security can be increased through demand management. This is the better use of existing water supplies and not only planning for increased supply. Demand management promotes water conservation, during times of both normal conditions and uncertainty, through changes in practices, cultures and people’s attitude towards water resources. If people do not realise and change their perspectives, water crisis could spawn mass indigence of a kind where entitlements and non-entitlements would resort to bitter struggles, with lasting detrimental impact. Because besides habitations, agriculture which feeds us demands water.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

(Charudutta Panigrahi is a polymath. Author, community worker, TED speaker, public intellectual & policy influencer. He can be reached at charu.panigrahi@gmail.com)

More from the author: Op-Ed: Electric Bus In Smart Bhubaneswar

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