Water Scarcity – A Threat To Human Life And The Legal Reforms Needed To Prevent It

Water Scarcity – A Threat To Human Life And The Legal Reforms Needed To Prevent It

Neyan Madhavan_JudicateMe


This Blog is written by Neyan Madhavan from Symbiosis Law School, NoidaEdited by Shelal Lodhi Rajput.



Water scarcity is the unavailability of freshwater resources to fulfil the standard water needs. Water scarcity is mainly caused by pollution, drought and lack of rainfall. All major cities in the world face water scarcity because of its overpopulation. 66% of the worldwide populace (4 billion individuals) live under states of serious water shortage at least one month of the year. This was recorded in 2019 by the World Economic Forum as one of the biggest worldwide dangers in terms of prospective impact throughout the following decade. The embodiment of worldwide water scarcity is the geographic and temporal mismatch between freshwater demand and availability. The expanding total populace, improving expectations for everyday comforts, changing utilization patterns and expansion of inundated agri-business are the fundamental driving forces for the rising worldwide demand for water.


The aggregate sum of easily available freshwater on Earth, as surface water (streams and lakes) or groundwater, is 14,000 cubic kilometres. Of this aggregate sum, ‘simply’ 5,000 cubic kilometres are being utilised and reused by mankind. Consequently, the freshwater available in the planet Earth right now is more than sufficient to fulfil the needs of the current worldwide populace of more than 7 billion people. But, due to inconsistent land appropriation and unequal utilisation of water, the water is scarce in some parts of the world.

According to one of the reports published by World Resources Institute (WRI), it stated that 17 nations – home of a fourth of the total population will face “extremely high” water stress within twenty years.[1] Water stress is the proportion between water withdrawals (household, rural and industrial water uses) and accessible inexhaustible water supplies. Risk categories of “high” and “extremely high” water stress are reached when yearly withdrawals surpass 40% & 80% of accessible inexhaustible water supplies.

Drought and absence of rainfall are one of the key factors for water scarcity. Waterways, lakes and ponds are evaporating or getting too polluted to use. The greater part of the world’s wetlands has vanished. Farming consumes more water than any other source and wastes quite a bit of that through inefficiencies. At the current utilisation rate, this case will only deteriorate. It is estimated that by 2025, 66% of the total population may face water shortages. Subsequently, ecosystems around the globe will endure considerably more. [2] Climate change is adjusting patterns of weather and water around the world, causing deficiencies and droughts in certain zones and floods in others. Climate change has caused the melting of glaciers, decreased stream and river flow which indeed results in the shrinking of waterways. Despite the fact that we have an enormous amount of water for all the people, much has become contaminated, salted which means that the water is not suitable to use for agricultural purposes, factories and households. To maintain a strategic distance for the worldwide water crisis, farmers have to come up with new ideas to increase agricultural productivity while industries and urban communities will have to discover new ways to utilise water in a more efficient manner. A study shows that Sudan is the most severely impacted nation in the world with regard to human health and the unavailability of drinking water. More than 12.3 million people in Sudan use contaminated water for everyday activities. [3]


Scarcity of water is a problem which is faced by almost all nations in the world. Recently, the National Institute of Transforming India released a report in which, it stated the on-going and up-coming water crisis in India. The study collected a Composite Water Management Index, which estimated both water outcomes (groundwater sustainability and household drinking water) and management (proficiency measures and guidelines). The report concluded that most states scored less than 50% on the index and it is also estimated that 21 cities are probably going to run out of groundwater by 2020. If the current situation continues, in 20 years an expected 60% of all India’s aquifers will be at basic or over-misused levels. India could encounter a drop of 6% in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) because of water scarcity alone. The amount of water in a scarce river basin is restricted by the quantum of yearly rainfall. The issue which arises here is not about running out of the water, but rather how a fixed asset should be allocated. Sadly, there is no “correct formula” to figure out, as to how much water should a person use in his/her lifetime. As a result, rich and influential people take advantage of these resources because of which poor people and future generations suffer.

Water scarcity affects the livelihood of farmers on a major scale as farming requires more water compared to other sources. As rivers and lakes dry up, farmers tend to quit farming and are forced to take up non-agricultural jobs, but those who cannot do so often struggle. Farmers have access to use underground water by drilling, but the issue is that the underground water is located deep down which means it is expensive to drill that deep. As the groundwater level drops, only the rich people will have access to groundwater. In many states, electricity is free and water-intensive crops such as sugarcane and paddy are subsidised in various ways. In a way, the usage of water in Indian agriculture remains low.[4]

Impact of Water Scarcity on girl’s education

There are reports showing that women in Africa and Asia have to walk more than 6 kilometres each day in order to fetch water. People living in developing countries who have less access to water consume far less because they have to walk long distances to get water and water is heavy. As per documents presented at the 2012 Conference on “Water Scarcity in Africa: Issues & Challenges”, it is said that more than 250 million individuals in Africa will live under areas of high water stress which might probably take anyplace between 24 million and 700 individuals as conditions become progressively unacceptable. Even school children in many parts of Africa & Asia, where water shortage is in its peak are made to walk many miles to fetch water. This is because schools don’t have access to freshwater. This is one of the main reasons for girl children to quit schooling and help their mothers in household activities.[5]


India introduced Water Act in 1974 in order to reduce and control water pollution. This Act provides certain powers to the water board of a state. Section 17, Section 24, Section 25, Section 32 and Section 43 of the Water Act, 1974 seem to be important and states the rights and functions of the board. It also mentions that the State can take emergency measures in case of pollution of stream or any waterways. It has 64 Sections in total. Pollution boards were created to implement its provisions. One of the main aims of Water Act, 1974 is to maintain and restore the purity of water bodies. Under the Act, industries are not allowed to dump industrial wastes into lakes and rivers and it is the duty of the State Pollution Control Board to stop such activities. Anyone neglecting to comply with the said rules is liable for imprisonment under Section 24 and Section 43 anywhere between six months to one and a half years along with monetary fine.


Perumatty Grama Panchayat v. State of Kerala [6]

Claims have been raised by the people residing in the locality regarding the unreasonable exploitation of groundwater for the working of the said unit is causing drinking water scarcity and other extreme environmental issues. Regarding this, political parties and other mass organisations have conflicting views. The view of the Adivasis is exactly opposite to that of the company and this was continued for more than a year. Considering the above conditions, to prevent the excess utilisation of groundwater, the Panchayat took a decision. It is said by the petitioners that Hindustan Coca Cola Pvt. Ltd is doing overexploitation of water which actually affects the livelihood of many villagers living nearby. This also results in the deterioration of the quality of water and people residing in the locality started facing acute drinking water shortage. The respondents claimed that there is no such law which states how much underground water can a person use in his lifetime and that underground water is a national wealth and they have the right to extract water for the purpose of their production.

The Judgement came in favour of the villagers, the Court ordered the respondents not to extract any groundwater after the said time limit (1 month) from the date of Judgement. The Court also ordered Coca Cola to extract a reasonable amount of water and gave some instructions for the company to follow.


India is currently facing a tough phase with regard to the water crisis. Water Resources Minister in each and every state should plan and get the required expertise to store and utilise the rainwater in an efficient manner. The government should take proper steps and measures to ensure that there is no water scarcity in the country. A study by the Water Stress Index states that more than 55% of big cities in India are facing the extreme risk of scarcity. India ranks 46th in most severe water scarcity index amongst the world nations.

The study states that many significant Indian cities are about to experience a higher number of back to back drought days where rainfall is under 1 mm. Bangalore, for instance, is expected to encounter 5% increase in back to back drought days by 2060, comparative with the period from 1981 to 2005. It is high time that we start thinking about water scarcity seriously and we ourselves can contribute towards the cause in many ways such as increasing awareness amongst others, by using water cautiously, by being curious.


There is an irrational belief that innovation will comprehend everything by improving productivity. Yet, innovation only makes better ways of storing, abstracting and utilising water without addressing the basic issue – more than the inexhaustible fraction of water is being taken out. Over extraction of water for proficient use is still considered over-extraction. India needs better information and more transparency on how much water it has, its quality and what amount is being used by each individual. New advancements, sensors and satellite imagery make this possible to improve “water accounting”.

India likewise needs improved administration systems and an educated society that can actually demand more sustainable water. Investing in water administration is innately political, slow and chaotic. However, without making institutions that make spaces to negotiate and allocate in a reasonable manner. India’s water future is most likely to remain bleak.


[1] Union of Concerned Scientists (BLOG)

[2] World Wild Life (BLOG) <https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/water-scarcity >

[3] Safe Drinking Water WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme, 2001

[4] IDR (BLOG) written by Dr. Veeena Srinivasan

[5] The Citizen (Magazine)  <https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/magazine/success/1843788-4185906-xrs3qhz/index.html>

[6] 2004 (1) KLT 731



[9]https://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft0f59n72f&chunk.id=d0e1438&toc.depth=1&toc.id=d0e1438&brand=ucpress .

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