Doha COP 18, Global Warming and the Deepening Water Crisis in India,

“She’s welcome to stay for as long as she likes” my mother says when I ask her if I could bring a friend home to stay over for winter recess “we now have daily water supply”, she adds triumphantly.

Provision of water to households in Bangalore, India’s sixth largest city and my parents’home city, is at best erratic and at worst non-existent. The state owned water and sewerage works department, BWSSB supplies water to the city’s 8.45 million inhabitants. The supply runs (or trickles in, especially during the summer months) for only a few hours every day and for a few days a week. The volume of water delivered per day totals 0.34 billion gallons. New York City delivers 1.2 billion gallons of water per day to its 8 million residents, a volume four-fold higher than in Bangalore and for a population very alike in size.

The average per capita consumption of water for household use is 98 gallons in the US[1], 82 gallons in Qatar[2] and 35 gallons in India’s urban areas and 8 gallons in its rural areas.[3]In India’s rural areas, fetching water for domestic use also consumes significant human energy and time -per household, an average of 1.6 kms is traveled each day over an average of 1.5 hours.[4]

Ample and continuous water supply taken for granted in most developed countries is a distant reality in Bangalore and in many other cities in India.This scarcity has a telling influence on seemingly quotidian decisions, such as – will there be enough water to share with an extra house guest?  So if daily water supply is indeed a reality in Bangalore, my mother has every reason to sound triumphant.

But, for how long?

India’s per capita water availability was 1,730 cubic meters per person per year in 2006, just 30 cubic meters above the 1,700 mark which the World Bank describes as being in a state of ‘water stress’. By 2030, the per capita availability is projected to decline to 1240 cubic meters pushing India perilously close to the 1,000 cubic meter mark declared by World Bank as ‘water scarce’.[5]

Rapid population growth, wasteful use and lack of storage infrastructure have for years plagued the availability and provision of water in India. According to experts, climate uncertainty is compounding this by a magnitude of two times.

Little less than a week ago, 20,000 people, including politicians, diplomats, negotiators, activists,civil society and students from across the world gathered at plenary sessions, at side events and at the country pavilions of UNFCCC’s COP 18 conference in Doha, to come to a decision on how to reduce green house gas emissions and stop the world from hurtling towards a 2C temperature rise by the year 2050.

In India, climate change has a direct impact on the monsoons, making both its timing and intensity more unpredictable. This year, rainfall is 12% below nation-wide long-term averages and as severely low as 72% in some parts of the north and west.[6] Scanty rainfall hampers household water supply but has more serious repercussions on agriculture which accounts for 17% percent of India’s economy and employs about 70% of its population.[7]  Over 65% of agricultural land in India is already sustained by groundwater and its predicted that 60% of groundwater sources will be seriously degraded within the next 20 years.[8]

Warming temperatures are melting the Himalayan glaciers. These glaciers are the source of drinking water, irrigation and hydroelectric power for roughly 1.5 billion people across eight countries in the Indian sub-continent.[9]Melting Himalayas may magnify water crisis in the region, states a report by the National Resources Council. [10]

“We cannot solve the challenge of climate change if we do not make equity an imperative”, says Sunita Narain, Director of the Centre for Science and Environment. Almost shouting to make herself heard over another speaker’s voice filtering in from the neighboring make-shift side events room at the Qatar National Convention Center. Narain’s petite physique belies her reputation as India’s most strident and courageous campaigner for justice and equity in climate change negotiations.“US’s pledge of reducing emissions by 20% below 1990 levels is meaningless and will take us all not towards development but towards a common hell”, she cried.

According to Samantha Smith, leader of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative, three things were deemed essential to the success of COP 18. Firstly, an increased mitigation ambition by developed countries. Secondly, commitment to a road map that will take finances to at least $100 billion per year by 2020. And thirdly, making sure that environmental integrity is enhanced by enforcing existing rules.

The actual results though have been less than encouraging. The US obstinately stuck to a 17% emissions cut target by 2020, and the EU’s plans of deeper cuts were thwarted by Polish opposition. With the US and EU making weak pledges, other major emitters had little motivation to raise ambition.The success in agreeing to a second Kyoto commitment period was watered down by provisions that allow carry-over of unused carbon credits. Further, the Kyoto Protocol has limited influence as it only covers 15% of global emissions.

Equity and ambition both elude the outcome of COP 18, Doha. Leading NGOs say, the new commitment period will do nothing to derail the world’s march towards a 4 degrees or more of warming by 2100.A report by the World Bank warns that it took little more than 4 degrees of cooling for the ice age to set in, so a 4 degrees temperature increase will wreck havoc especially for vulnerable communities.

What does this mean for India’s water situation–greater intensity and frequency of extreme weather events and rapidly vanishing glaciers? And at a human level, it portends grave consequences for the millions of small-holder farmers in India who are already beleaguered by economic hardships, and perhaps less than 4 gallons of water for household consumption. For those in urban areas, water poverty woes will continue unabated.

As world leaders turn a blind eye to scientific reports and continue to dither on showing leadership and determination in reducing global green house gas emissions, I hope that by some miracle my mother can continue to welcome my friends to stay over at her house.


— Aparna Mani






[4] Ibid.

[5] Raj, A. Water Security in India: The Coming Challenge, Future Directions International



[8]World Bank (2010), Deep Wells and Prudence: Towards Pragmatic Action for Addressing Groundwater Overexploitation in India, World Bank

[9]Oskin, B. Melting Himalayas May Magnify Water Scarcity, Live Science


[10] Ibid.