According to global reports, India is amongst the 17 countries where "water stress" is flagged as "very high". The United Nations estimates that as many as 700 million people worldwide could be displaced by intense water scarcity by the year 2030. It also estimates that a third of the world's biggest groundwater systems are already in distress.
The problem is man-made. Simply put, we are drawing more water out of the ground than we put in. The main reason for increased demand is population growth, followed closely by agriculture and industry. It is also observed that as we get wealthier, we tend to consume more water; which also means that less is available for the poorer sections of society during hot and dry seasons when scarcity occurs.
That's the consumption side. Now let's look at the supply side. It's hard to imagine that rain soaked India has a water problem, but it does. Maharashtra suffers from droughts every dry season, despite also getting enough annual rainfall to charge all the aquifers. In 2019, Chennai ran out of water. The 4 lakes that supply the city dried up, and residents didn't have enough water to drink, bathe or wash clothes. In Haryana farmers are reporting dry borewells, as are their counterparts in Punjab. And finally, according to the NITI Aayog, 21 Indian cities will run out of groundwater this year.
As previously mentioned, India's annual rainfall is enough to charge the water table. So what is going wrong?
For starters, we're paving over everything - lakes, wetlands, areas that once acted as natural catchment areas and allowed standing water to seep down into the water table. Each year, we cover more land with roads and concrete paving as urbanisation increases. So when it rains, water pools and surges above ground, often causing flooding in some cities, but doesn't percolate downwards.
It seems like a Catch 22 situation: we can't stop urbanising, and we can't possibly live without water. The solution, not surprisingly, comes from x year old Aarav Sekaria and x year old Ishan Golwala.
Aarav's solution is simple - create holes alongside highways, major roads and other spaces where rainwater collects, and then route this water for irrigation, or into areas that are water deficient, or into spaces from where the water can seep into underground aquifers. Ishan's solution involves large rainwater collectors which then feed into a series of filters and a storage device that also works as a drinking water dispenser. This solves two problems - drinking water in cities during dry periods, and having to buy bottled water.
Both of these solutions require refinement and prototyping, but are a great place to start from. And no, these children don't belong to a think tank. Yet. Both Aarav and Ishan are the finalists of the Voices of Future contest.
In 2018, as a part of the first BreatheFree Campaign, Volvo Cars were in workshops with Delhi's school children when they realised that their high quality questions, suggestions and ideas needed to be captured. Not only did they adopt some of these suggestions in the form of Clean Zone kiosks for traffic policemen and Clean Zone buses during peak Delhi pollution season; they were determined to capture these ideas and make them available to a larger pool of innovators and doers.
A year later, Volvo Car's Voices of Future contest was born. The BreatheFree campaign is just a small part of Volvo Car's commitment towards sustainability. Starting in 2018, they've launched a new electric model every single year, and have pledged that half of all sales will be electric by 2025. Additionally, they've also pledged to cut down their car production carbon footprint by 50%.
The Voices of Future contest, as expected, generated ideas and solutions for some of the biggest challenges facing us today - water, air pollution, renewable power, clean farming practices, zero-emissions transport, and many others. Volvo Cars will shortly publish an e-book containing the top 20 ideas, with the hope that it sparks something in the right minds.
What's needed now, is for innovators, tinkerers and smart businesses to do their part - to explore these solutions, refine them, and hopefully, find ways to make them commercially and environmentally viable.
What is also needed is that we all pledge to do our bit for our planet. It's our only home, after all. If you don't know where to start, go-to https://www.firstpost.com/breathefree/for some great ideas, and don't forget to take the pledge.