A recently released Niti Aayog report has indicated that 50% of the springs (a natural discharge point of subterranean water at the surface of the ground or directly into the bed of a stream, lake, or sea) in the Himalayan region are drying up. The Indian Himalayan Region (IHR) is water-stressed due to the drying up of several water sources and natural springs. With changing climatic conditions and rainfall patterns, a large number of villages, hamlets and settlements are staring at a potential water crisis.
IHR which spreads across 12 States covering a length of 2,500 km is home to more than 50 million people. Natural springs are the major source of water for the purpose of drinking, domestic and agriculture needs. More than 60% of the population is dependent on these springs, as per the Niti Aayog’s report.
The number of springs has fallen down from 360 to 60 in Uttarakhand state (majorly in Almora region) alone. The data reveals that out of 89,712 villages that fall in IHR, only 18,681 (20%) are villages are left with springs. As per data available with Down to Earth, there are five million springs across India, of which nearly 3 million are in the IHR and due to the growing demand of water due to multiple reasons tourism, urbanisation (nearly 500 growing townships and 8 – 10 cities), rampant cutting of trees, these springs are rapidly drying up.
Nearly 60% of low-discharge springs that provided water to small habitations in the Himalayan region have reported a clear decline during the last couple of decades. A continued crisis will consequently affect the lives of millions of people in the mountains. It is imperative to embed the growing problem of spring water depletion within the context of preserving the mountain environmental systems. Springs have provided water to the mountain communities for centuries and the revival of this ‘traditional source of water’ is extremely important for the region’s sustainable growth and prosperity. Nearly every river in North India has its origins in these springs. 90% of the water to Ganga comes from these springs and streams.
The government is trying to address the problem by resorting to various measures to revive the springs. The Union Ministry of Jal Shakti Ministry has recently released a framework document that sets out a policy pathway to rejuvenate Himalayan springs. Accordingly, a pilot project has been proposed for spring inventory and rejuvenation in Tehri Garhwal district of Himalayan Uttarakhand. A similar kind of research initiative has been taken in Sikkim through the DharaVikas Programme by the Rural Management & Development Department (RM&DD), Government of Sikkim.
The water crisis in the mountains serves as a call to unleash a series of united efforts aimed at reviving the springs and making the region water secure. The inadequacy of water will destabilize the economy and development in the region, which will affect nearly 200 million dependents on springs in the IHR. There is an immediate need to build platforms that will ensure the participation of local or indigenous groups. Such platforms can help implement models of water conservation inspired by indigenous knowledge. It can not only help in nurturing the water sources but also sensitizing the locals towards the issue of water scarcity.
(Author is working with the Research and Communications team at SDC Foundation. He tweets at stoic_gautamkr)