‘Clean Ganga will succeed if intention translates to short and long-term plans’

In a growing world economy, natural resources are becoming scarce by the day. Water which is one the most precious natural resources, perhaps faces the maximum threat. As climate change threatens to make summers long and dry, strategies to conserve water is of paramount importance.

In an exclusive interview with Business Standard, Joppe Cramwinckel, Director- World Business Council for Sustainable Development said there is enough water to sustain India’s economic growth, but one needs to be smarter to use it. The council also launched the India Water Tool recently, which maps the groundwater in the country. Edited Excerpts.

The World Business Council recently launched the India Water Tool, through which as I believe have tried to map areas of stress, abundance and other factors in the country. What according to you are the critical areas as far as groundwater availability in India is concerned. I mean the states where the situation is really grim and states or areas where the situation is not so alarming?

The critical area as far as groundwater availability in India is that locally there is more taken out of the ground than can be replenished naturally. The data in the Indian Water Tool from the Central Groundwater Management Board and Colombia University provides data on groundwater availability at block/taluka level, so it is possible to start action locally.

The groundwater level in some states is truly grim as far as I know, but what according to you is the main reason for that, is it excessive drawl or some other reason?

The pressures on groundwater extraction is primarily because of economic and population growth. There is enough water to sustain this growth, but everyone has to become smarter in their water use.

In many parts civil society activists blame the Corporate sector for polluting ground water resources and also rivers and lakes. How far do you think this is true and what should Corporates do to address this?

There is no doubt that untreated industrial waste water discharge plays a role in the pollution of groundwater, but there are many additional contributors to pollution. For example, the run off of fertilizers and pesticides, and the release of untreated sewage are also threats to the quality of groundwater. This is recognized in the global negotiations on the post 2015 SDGs, which calls for halving the proportion of untreated waste water (industrial and municipal).  The main areas of action for the corporate sector – globally, not just in India – are treating waste water to adequate standards before it is discharged, in combination with re-using the water taken out of the ground.

The government has launched an ambitious programme to clean the river Ganges, which is one of the most holiest and biggest in the country. But, this has been going on for a long time without any tangible result. How far do you think will the current initiative succeed and what was the problem with the others?

The current government’s focus on the clean Ganges could actually accelerate action. Similar clean-up initiatives like the one focusing on the river Rhine have taken decades of planning and implementation – success depends on how the intentions are translated and implemented in short and long term plans.

In India, conservation of water is very little and much of rainwater just goes waste, what should the government and others do to help conserve water and how much of it is actually possible?

Cities, industry and agriculture alike can use water more efficiently. The technology exists, so it is more a question of willingness to implement such technologies. This can often be encouraged by government policies and/or adequate water pricing. Given that most water is used by the agricultural sector, a specific focus on implementing water smart production methods would really help to conserve water. The Indian Water Tool has been designed to help decision makers to focus on those regions were immediate action is most needed.

World over water resources are one of the most polluted and much of the blame for this goes to the cities and towns which have been built over the years. What according to you should be the strategy to ensure that municipal and local waster does not pollute the rivers and also seep into the ground?

In most emerging economies only a small part of the city’s municipal waste water is treated before being discharged. This must change. Cities need to invest in systems that  collect and treat waste water, whether it comes from households or small enterprises. This is not always easy, as most cities develop organically, and retro-fitting those collection and treatment systems can be challenging. Novel concepts, like the decentralized delivery of services and more efficient ways to recover energy and nutrients from sewage, are essential to be able to accelerate the delivery of safe and adequate water and sanitation for all.

How do you the India Water tool address some of the pressing problems related to water in India?

All water users need access to adequate information to make risk-based water management decisions. It is good to see that stakeholders in India see clear value from the tool, in terms of measuring risks and planning interventions at their sites and across supply chains. Plans to improve outreach include encouraging use of the tool among industries, and taking it to small and medium scale industries, which represent a big portion of Indian business.