Water Crisis in IndiaIndia is home to approximately 16 percent of the world’s population. However, India only holds about 4 percent of the world’s freshwater, leaving 76 million Indians without access to safe drinking water. The water crisis in India worsens each year as precipitation becomes more unreliable and groundwater sources run dry. More than 500 people in Chennai, India’s sixth-largest city, were arrested during protests in front of the municipal government on June 19. Protesters blame the government for the water crisis as a result of “negligence and mismanagement.”


Usually, June is the start of monsoon season in Chennai. Precipitation levels are only half of what they should be. June 20 was the first major rainfall of the year, 29 millimeters. This was more than the total documented rainfall since December. Furthermore, Chennai’s basic infrastructure system is unable to efficiently store water during rainstorms to save for periods of drought. The rivers fill quickly and often flood. Meanwhile, 91 percent of the water flows into the ocean where it is no longer drinkable. Chennai is the first major city to experience a water crisis in India this severe.

The four largest reservoirs around Chennai have run dry. They are not expected to fill until November. The government is currently shipping water directly into Chennai, where thousands of residents wait in line for their share. Once residents receive their water, they must carry over a dozen pots back home for their families. People have resorted to violence, fighting over water or hijacking water trucks, to survive.

How Did This Happen?

There are two sources of water in the world: surface water and groundwater. Around 700 million Indians rely on groundwater as their main source of drinking water. But groundwater is only supposed to be a buffer resource in case of drought. Additionally, monsoon season’s unpredictability over the last few years has prevented groundwater from replenishing. For instance, between 2002 and 2012, groundwater depletion rates in Chennai were 8 percent faster than recharge.

Protesters blame the government for the water crisis in India because of the lack of regulation to protect groundwater has left reservoirs dry. India uses more groundwater than any other country, using about 25 percent of all groundwater extracted in the world. Unlike surface water, the Indian government does not regulate groundwater. The Easement Act of 1882 gives landowners the right to collect water under their land despite it being a shared resource. In other words, the lack of regulation gave way to the tragedy of the commons. Individuals acted independently to advance their own interests without worrying about the consequences of over-exploitation and depletion for the community.

Future Effects

Chennai’s geological systems are susceptible to quick depletion because of its shallow crystalline aquifers with little storage room for water. Additionally, crystalline rock has low permeability, which drastically decreased recharge rates during rainfall. These conditions caused almost immediate depletion. However, water insecurity will continue to worsen across other parts of India with different geological structures as more groundwater is over-exploited.

If they continue to exploit groundwater at this rate, 40 percent of the population will not have access to drinking water by 2030. Furthermore, 21 cities will run out of groundwater by 2020. Lastly, by the year 2050, 6 percent of GDP will be lost.

Potential Solutions

Replenishing groundwater is essential to ending the water crisis in India. However, as monsoon season brings unreliable rainfall, communities must search for other ways to refill aquifers. One idea is to desalinate seawater. About 25 percent of India’s population, including residents of Chennai, live along the water. Currently, desalinated water makes up 40 percent of Chennai’s supply. However, this is not enough to end the water crisis. Desalination requires too high of costs and energy consumption for a fuel-poor country. The Desalination Journal conducted a study in 2014. The study found that solar energy can desalinate water. However, desalination cannot produce water at a sustainable monetary cost.

The government must find other solutions to the severe water crisis in India. Leaving the rights of groundwater to landowners will continue to lead to further depletion. It will take a large government commitment to reverse the effects of the water crisis in India and provide its residents with sufficient access to clean water.

– Haley Myers
Photo: Flickr

With the expansion of the American natural gas industry, hydraulic fracturing—commonly referred to as “fracking”—has been utilized to extract natural gas from shale rock formations deep within the earth. The Eagle Ford Shale in particular is a 400-mile long sedimentary rock formation in Texas that has been one of the most heavily exploited areas for natural gas in America. It has also accounted for one of the most significant energy booms in the country.

However, the practice of fracking has come at cost for the population living within the vast expanse of the Eagle Ford Shale. Fracking has been frequently linked to causing environmental harms such as contaminating water supplies with harmful chemicals and releasing toxic chemicals into the air.

Moreover, the people on the receiving end of environmental repercussions from fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale are mostly members of low-income communities. Impoverished families living in the area commonly complain of “asthma, splitting headaches and other health concerns, all attributed to the air quality.”

The Texas legislature has also failed to be responsive to the environmental concerns of the people. Most of the communities are far from developed areas containing suburbs and cities—which give them very little political influence. An investigation by InsideClimate News found that 42 of the 181 state legislators of Texas have a personal financial stake in the natural gas industry of the Eagle Ford Shale.

As a result, the environmental problems that have arisen for low-income families have been perpetuated by a legislative system that has failed to represent their needs.

An eight-month long investigation carried out by the Weather Channel, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News has found that air quality throughout the 20,000 square mile region of the Eagle Ford Shale has only five permanent monitors installed—most of which are far from where chemical emissions are highest.

Furthermore, companies that exploit natural gas through fracking have not been held accountable for breaking the law. From January 1, 2010 to November 19, 2013, Eagle Ford residents have filed 284 oil and gas industry complaints, and 164 of those complaints have translated into documented violations. Nevertheless, only two of them resulted in fines, with the largest fine being a mere $14,250.

The expansion of the natural gas industry has received extensive support for its ability to allow for American energy independence and economic prosperity. However, the benefits have come with significant harm to many low-income families who have been unable to remedy their environmental problems.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: InsideClimate News, Salon, The Huffington Post
Photo: Empower Network