India will face a severe water crisis in 20 years if the government doesn't change its ways and clashes are already taking place because the resource is so scarce, the World Bank warned Wednesday.
"There's virtually no country in the world that lives with a system as bad as you have here," John Briscoe, author of the Bank's draft country report on India, told a media conference in New Delhi.
"There is a widespread complacency in the government about water."
The report says that India has no proper water management system in place, its groundwater is disappearing and river bodies are turning into makeshift sewers.
"Estimates reveal that by 2020, India's demand for water will exceed all sources of supply," the report says.
"There is no question that the incidence and severity of conflicts (over water) has increased sharply in recent times ... There is a high level of vitriol in the endemic clashes between states on inter-state water issues," it adds.
With the Indian government unable to provide its citizens a 24-hour supply of water even in the national capital, those who can afford to have found other ways to turn on the tap.
The result is an unregulated system with no incentive to conserve water.
"What has happened in the last 20 or 30 years is a shift to self-provision. Every farmer sinks a tubewell and every house in Delhi has a pump pumping groundwater," said Briscoe, an expert on water issues at the World Bank. "Once that water stops you get into a situation where towns will not be able to function."
According to the report, 70 percent of India's irrigation water and 80 percent of its domestic water supplies now come from groundwater, which is being rapidly depleted.
The Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment said that in parts of the capital city, the groundwater level is dropping by 10 meters (33 feet) each year.
"Especially in South Delhi there are a lot of borewells because piped water supply is not coming," said R.K. Srinivasan, deputy coordinator of natural resource management at the organization.
The independent group has begun a project to use city buildings to harvest rain water and return it underground.
The issue of water management is particularly pressing in a country where many states get as much as 90 percent of their rainfall in the four months of the summer monsoon season, leading to a drought-flood cycle.
The World Bank report also worries about the impact of climate change in India, particularly the melting of glaciers in the western part of the Himalayan mountain range.
It makes specific recommendations for India that include negotiating clear-cut water entitlements for states that spar over river water, increasing storage capacity and charging water users appropriately.
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