India’s Deepening Water Crisis

India currently has 1.33 billion people. The nation is rapidly running out of drinkable water. 600 million already face acute water shortages in major cities across the country. Another 21 major Indian cities will run out of groundwater in 2020, parching a further 100 million people unto death.

Monsoon rains, upon which India has long depended, are becoming increasingly erratic with global climate change. Monsoon rainfall levels have significantly declined this decade. This year the monsoons arrived late, amid a summer heat wave that killed 140 people.

India has long depleted its groundwater, which has traditionally supplied 40% of people’s water supply. “India’s groundwater resources are severely overdrawn, largely to provide water for irrigation,” reports India’s Central Ground Water Board. Like other countries, 90% of India’s water wastefully goes to agriculture.

Other sources are also running dry. 65% of India’s reservoirs are low.

Running water has already run out in many urban areas, including Chennai, India’s 6th largest city. Hundreds of thousands of Chennai residents wait in line for hours every day to fill their pots from government water tankers. Hospitals and schools lack sufficient water. People must wash their utensils in the same dirty water, saving a scant few bottles of clean water to cook food.

“Since 1990, cities in India grew very rapidly,” said Samrat Basak, director of the World Resource Institution India’s Urban Water Program. “But they grew without considering where resources are coming from.” During urbanization, natural water reservoirs were polluted and destroyed; raw sewage dumped into creeks and rivers rather than treated (a traditional practice worldwide, and still popular in many industrialized countries).

Indians don’t bother to collect rainwater or conserve their rapidly dwindling water resources. This despite the monsoons providing ample seasonal rainfall.

Indians casually foul their water supplies. 70% of India’s population is still rural. 50% of rural water supplies are routinely contaminated with toxic bacteria.

“India is lagging far behind the rest of the world in providing water and sanitation both to its rural and urban populations,” noted World Bank economist Smita Misra. “Not one city in India provides water on an all-day, everyday basis.”

Across the country, Indian governments did nothing to keep water clean or work to ensure a continuing supply. Just this month, Indian policy analyst Brahma Chellaney noted, “the Indian government attempts to show the country that the government appears to be doing something, when in actual terms they have done nothing.” The Indian government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made hollow promises about securing India’s water supply, wasting money on worthless huge water projects.

Water shortages have created a liquid apartheid. The rich pay $216 a day for their water, while the poor wait for hours for what little government tanker trucks provide. Local water mafias traffic the precious liquid. “Climate change will have devastating consequences for people in poverty,” noted a United Nations human rights report.

200,000 already die each year from thirst or drinking dirty water. That toll in India will rise to the millions annually within the next few years. And that is just the prelude. Lack of water and blazing heat will depopulate India within the next few decades. Already in the past 20 years air temperature has gone up 2 °C, to an average 26.3 °C (80° F).


Meera Subramanian, “India’s terrifying water crisis,” The New York Times (15 July 2019).

Jessie Young et al, “India has just five years to solve its water crisis, experts fear. Otherwise hundreds of millions of lives will be in danger,” CNN (4 July 2019).

Jeffrey Gettleman, “India threatens a new weapon against Pakistan: water,” The New York Times (21 February 2019).

Gardiner Harris, “Rains or not, India is falling short on drinkable water,” The New York Times (12 March 2013).

Five troubling facts about India’s water crisis,” The Weather Channel (25 August 2019).