With extreme water scarcity, how will India save itself from the Covid-19 pandemic?

India’s groundwater reserves are at an all-time low, with nearly 65 percent of the country’s reservoirs running dry

Covid19Image Courtesy:worldfinance.com

The Covid-19 in India is slowly taking over India. With more than 700 cases in the country and over 15 reported deaths the country has placed extensive importance on sanitation and personal hygiene.

However, it is a reality that residents in several areas of the country face extreme water shortage. With not enough water for daily chores, many people are scared to use the water for maintaining hand hygiene at this time.

The Indian Express reported that the water supply from Hyderabad Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (HMWS&SB) to many residential colonies in Manikonda, Alkapuri Township and Financial District has been infrequent for quite some time and now as the groundwater levels too have gone down drastically, the people are in dire straits. The groundwater levels in these areas are so scarce that the residents are scared to even wash their hands to stay safe.

An apartment in Alkapuri Township had recently received a note informing people about the various ways by which Covid-19 could be kept at bay, but soon residents added another note saying: “First provide us water to wash hands”.


This is a regular problem gated communities face – a problem that many communities face even before the onset of summer.

Shyam Raj, a resident of Alkapuri Township said, “I knew this was going to happen, but never thought it would happen so soon. It usually happens during peak summer.”

Another resident, Robin Paul said, “There are many gated communities wherein, the RWAs are asking residents to wash hands frequently and keep their houses sanitised. But we are not in a position to do that due to water scarcity.”

The HMWS&SB officials have however assured that there is no shortage of water “as of now”. Official sources said, “We have increased the supply of water to all the villages. For Manikonda, we will make sure that the supply is frequent.”


Other parts of India too suffer from a chronic water shortage. Changing weather events, sometimes floods and sometimes drought have put India in a precarious situation during this time. It has been predicted that 21 Indian cities would run out of groundwater in 2020. As of June 2019, nearly 65 percent of the country’s reservoirs were running dry.

According to government think tank NITI Aayog, almost 600 million Indians face an acute water shortage.

In 2019, Chennai’s residents faced a historic drought and had to queue up for water supplied by tankers because the reservoirs were empty. Water management has been incompetent. When taps ran dry, water had to be shipped in freight trains from other parts of the country.

Somewhere in Delhi, families have access to water, but it is not clean at all. During this outbreak, no access to clean water for hand hygiene would prove to be truly disastrous for impoverished families. Speaking to TIME, VK Madhavan, India Chief Executive, WaterAid said, “Clean water is the first line of defense. If there is no access to clean water, the situation could worsen.”

Maharashtra has been facing droughts since 2012. In 2013, the drought hit 11,801 villages. The worst affected districts included Solapur, Ahmednagar, Sangli, Pune, Satara, Beed and Nashik. The situation was also serious in Buldhana, Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Aurangabad, Jalna, Jalgaon and Dhule districts. In 2015, 23,000 villages faced a drought-like situation. In 2016, the drought affected 29,000 villages. In 2018, again 20,000 villages were hit by drought. Almost 60 percent of the state was reeling under extreme water scarcity in 2019.

Karnataka too, in 2019, declared 23 of its 30 districts drought-hit, with 88.6% of the state being drought-hit.

The state governments of Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha and Rajasthan too declared many regions as drought-hit in 2019, with data showing at least 40 percent of the country facing extreme water shortage.

According to a 2012, World Bank Report, India is the largest user of groundwater in the world. However, the huge number of population dependent on groundwater, the unreliable climate-reliant recharge and indiscriminate land use has rendered the groundwater scenario to be a vast problem, reported The Economic Times.

Apart from this, the unsafe use of rivers and other water bodies for disposal of industrial waste and sewage, have rendered the water non-potable.

These problems are only exacerbated in summer and people with unfavourable socio-economic conditions suffer the most.

Covid-19 and the water issue

With hand hygiene being of utmost importance during this outbreak, people have started washing their hands at least 5 – 7 times a day. Due to this, the Financial Express reports that water consumption has increased by nearly 1.5 times of the normal use. With already strained resources, it will be difficult for the water providers to allocate it to everyone equally.

It was reported that people labourers and migrant workers working in cities were returning to villages in light of the pandemic. If they unfortunately carry the infection with them to the hinterland, the looming threat of community transmission will ring true with people not being able to practise hygiene.

Not everyone has access to safe water and the price of water supplied by tankers is not affordable. While focus should be on educating people to reduce water usage, plans to make water available and affordable for all, especially during this pandemic, must be initiated.

Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat – all water scarce states have recorded some of the highest number of Covid-19 cases. Relying on sanitizers is not possible, especially for the poor. They, like the urban population, cannot invest in buying packaged water, again because it is unaffordable.

With groundwater drying up and available water being either unavailable or unsafe for use, how is India going to protect its vulnerable communities from the coronavirus pandemic?


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