There is one very famous quote which says, “Water is life’s mater and matrix,
mother and medium. There is no life without water”. The adage highlights the importance
of water and its value in sustenance of living beings on earth. It has multiple uses and each
use supports life, directly or indirectly. Even though 75 percent of our Earth is covered with
water, less than two percent is fresh water. To make the matters worse, only about a
percent is available as drinking water (two percent is frozen) (SSCWD, 2012). The facts
above, at the very outset, bring about the priceless importance of water.
Though once it was considered to be an endless natural resource, but lately due to endless
pollution and drastic climate change world is looking at a looming water crisis. Water
resources have started depleting across the globe due to climatic changes which have been
unleashed due to uncontrolled and unreasonable human activities.
We analyze the affect of Climate change on the water resources in India. India, which has
conventionally been an agrarian economy, has almost 600 million citizens directly and
indirectly employed in Agricultural activities and Agriculture contributes around 18
percent to India’s GDP (INDIA-Agriculture Economy and Policy Report, 2009). Moreover
India’s has world’s second largest population and hence the demand of fresh water is
naturally more. The facts above show the importance of water resources for India, its
economy and most importantly, its populace.
Ministry of Water resources of India recently submitted a report named ‘Preliminary
Consolidated Report on Effect of Climate Change on Water resources’ which analyzed all
the possible affects, reasons and implication Climate change could have on water resources
in India. The foreword of the report says, “The global warming is bound to affect the
hydrologic cycle resulting in further intensification of temporal and spatial variations in the
water availability.” The statement speaks volumes about the seriousness of the issue.
Water Resources of India can be broadly classified in three categories:
Surface water resources
Glacier resources of Indian Himalayas
All the water resources have been severely impacted due to climate changes. The three
significant and prominent visible signs of climate change are:
1. Increase in Global Level Temperature
2. Change in regional precipitation patterns
3. Rise in sea levels (Mujumdar 2010)
All the factors have contributed to degradation of water resources in India, in one way or
the other. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), a UNO body overseeing
Climate change and its affects, calculated that in last one century the global temperature
increased by around 0.74+- 0.18 degree Celsius in the last century and the analysis and
study of Indian subcontinent has revealed an increase of 0.42 degree Celsius, 0.92 degree
Celsius and 0.90 degree Celsius in annual mean temperature, mean maximum temperature
and mean minimum temperature over last 100 years (PCR, p.1). Since temperature derives
the hydrological cycle, increase in the surface temperature of Earth has adversely affected
it in many direct and indirect ways. A warmer climate leads to higher rates of evaporation
and increase of liquid precipitation. Due to this flood magnitude and frequency are likely to
increase in many regions, and low flows are to decrease. This could be a major blow to
surface water reserves in terms of both quality and quantity as the quantity of dissolved
oxygen (used to gauge quality of water in many studies) decreases at higher temperatures.
The increased temperature will result in increased flooding initially, especially during
the monsoon season when rainfall is already at its heaviest. However, in subsequent years,
there will be less and less glacial meltdown to continuously supply India’s rivers (Brooks,
2007). This would eventually lead to widespread drought in the country as rivers will dry
up, which are a prime source of surface water in India.
Climate change has also affected rainfall patters in numerous ways in India. Monsoon has
become uncertain and rains have become erratic and non-uniform. It is leading to
unpredictable weather. This has again lead to decrease in water flow and water levels in
Indian rivers and the ground water level has also suffered extensively. India, being an
agricultural country is overtly dependent on rainfall and ground water for irrigation and
hence the importance of these two sources cannot be stressed enough. The stage of
groundwater development in the country is 58%, which is indeed alarming.
Glacier resources of Indian Himalayas are very important water resource for India. All the
major North Indian rivers owe their origin to thousands of glaciers in the Himalayas. There
are around 9575 glaciers in Indian Himalayas (PCR, p.13). Hence, the value of Himalayan
glaciers as a water resources is India is paramount and its necessity and importance cannot
Climate change has impacted Himalayan glaciers in a very big manner too. The
temperature rise affects the natural process of glaciation and de-glaciation which poses a
lethal threat to glaciers. Due to change in climate and increased temperatures, glaciers in
Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau have been melting lately. Indian Himalayas and
Nepalese snow-fed rivers are responsible for over 70 percent discharge in Ganges (India’s
most important river). This means if Himalayas dry up, so would Ganges. The Ganges has
many tributaries which supply water and are a source of water for huge chunk of
population for purposes like drinking, irrigation and industrial purposes. According to
Brooks, “The glaciers, which regulate the water supply to the Ganges, Indus, Brahmaputra,
Mekong, Thalwin, Yangtze and Yellow Rivers, are believed to be retreating at a rate of
about 33-49ft each year” (2007). This could lead to draconian consequences as all the
rivers mentioned above are very important for India and loosing them could mean a
disaster for India as a nation.
Not only the resources but even the Urban water infrastructure in India has been facing the
heat of Climate change. Water infrastructure consisting of pumping systems, water supply
systems, ground water pumping is being affected due to the stresses caused by change in
climate. Most of the population in India relies on surface water supply by local agencies and
ground water pumping for almost all their needs. The global climate change has severely
hit both these sources.
Due to reduction in stream flows and erratic and less rains, ground water level has
decreased and surface water has depleted at an alarming rate. This has left many parts of
the country high and dry.
An indirect effect of climate change is an increase in water demand, because of rise in
Temperatures, for the same given population (Mujumdar 2011). Thus the affect of climate
change has been rather severe for India. It has not only lead to decrease in water levels of
primary water resources, but has also crunched the available infrastructure.
The situation of water resources is grim in India and climate change is exacerbating the
depletion of these resources. Indian Government and the entire world needs to take corrective
measures soon to reverse these effects and control activities leading to climate change, for the
sake of their people and for the sake of entire humanity as this is the state of water resources in
many countries across the globe.
Brooks, Nina (2007), ‘Imminent Water Crisis in India’, 16 November 2012,
Available at: http://www.arlingtoninstitute.org/wbp/global-water-crisis/606
Mujumdar, P.P. (2011), ‘Implications of Climate Change for Water Resources Management’,
pp. 18-27, 16 November 2012,
Available at: http://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=implications%20of%20climate%20change%20for%20water%20resources%20management%20pp%20mujumdar&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB8QFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.idfc.com%2Fpdf%2Freport%2F2011%2FChp-2-Implications-of-Climage-Change-for-Water-Resource.pdf&ei=JRamUN3pKsj_rAeSmIDwBA&usg=AFQjCNELn5EeB7JDkWyya6hmTJm0kiIVHA
SSCWD (2012), ‘Water Conservation Facts and Tips’, Sunnyslope County water District,
16 November 2012,
Available at: http://www.sscwd.org/tips.html
INDIA-Agriculture Economy and Policy Report, (2009), ‘Agriculture Economy and Policy
Report, 16 November 2012,
Available at: http://www.google.co.in/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=india%20an%20agrarian%20country&source=web&cd=9&cad=rja&ved=0CFgQFjAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fas.usda.gov%2Fcountry%2Findia%2Findian%2520agricultural%2520economy%2520and%2520policy%2520paper.pdf&ei=2jmlUJXkKaWhiAeK24GwBw&usg=AFQjCNHmedwq23VwzLV7YCDybznZKP7vFQ
PCR (2008), ‘Preliminary Consolidated Report on Effect of Climate Change on Water
resources’, Government of India-Ministry of Water Resources, pp. 1-29
16 November 2012,
Available at: cwc.gov.in/main/downloads/Preliminary_Report_final.pdf.