NEW DELHI: India can face a climate refugee crisis in the next seven years if water scarcity continues to persist in the country, renowned water conservationist Rajendra Singh said.
"Climate refugee" means increasing large-scale migration and cross-border mass movements of people partly caused by such weather-related disasters.
Speaking at the India Today Conclave 2021, water conservationist Singh, who is also known as the "Waterman of India" said the country cannot become 'paanidaar' (water self-sufficient) till a balance between discharge and recharge is maintained.
"And forming this balance between discharge and recharge of water is possible only through community driven decentralised management," he said.
Singh said people are already moving from their villages to cities due to water scarcity.
"Europe is seeing climate refugees from many African countries. Fortunately, Indians are not called climatic refugees right now but in the next seven years if the water scarcity in India continues to persist then, Indians will also face a similar situation," he warned.
He questioned what will India's future be like if water banks are emptying because of excessive pumping of groundwater.
"Already, migration due to water scarcity is taking place and everywhere migration is going on from villages to cities and we should actually call it displacement of people.
Now, the situation is such that there is such water scarcity that people are leaving villages and are not able to return."
"In India, migration due to water scarcity is happening. Cities have water. In agriculture, till skill development and efficient use of water under water literacy movement is not started in the country till then India cannot end water scarcity," he said.
Bharat Lal, Additional Secretary (Water), Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti, said the government has launched Jal Jeevan Mission and is working towards recharge, supply and reuse and maintenance of water in the country.
"Under the Jal Jeevan mission, communities are involved and our aim is that in due course water, sanitation and hygiene enlightened villages and schools are made.
Women led water committees are being made and civil society is being involved to spread awareness," he said.
Singh said the water crisis is a "women's crisis" and the government has formed 3.8 lakh women committees but that is only on paper."
"What is their power, what is in their hands when a contractor is employed, he keeps his profit in mind. So, when contractor driven action takes place then how will it benefit the community," he said.
Singh said because of climate change, farmers are not able to align crop pattern with rain pattern.
"How rain patterns are changing because of climate change that is impacting crops and destroying them.
Farmers are not able to ascertain how much rain they can expect," he said.
"We can work on that by introducing the water literacy movement first and also the agriculture universities in the country should be given responsibility to tell the rain pattern in the 90 agro-ecological climatic zone and link it with crop pattern to help farmers," he added.