National Water Policy and the Importance of Water Conservation

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Thales, one of the earliest thinkers from Greek believed that water was the source of the entire creation. Albeit, his belief isn’t in sync with modern scientific developments at all but it proved one important point, that is, water is essential for the existence of life on the planet.

It is a known fact that the distribution of water on earth itself is highly uneven. Only 3% of the total water available is used for human consumption and other activities. Hence, our lives would revolve around (below mentioned) Coleridge’s lines if we don’t conserve water in the present.

Water, water, everywhere,

And all the boards did shrink;

Water, water, everywhere,

Nor any drop to drink.

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Water is needed for a variety of purposes –agricultural, domestic, hydropower,navigation, recreation, etc in our day to day lives and hence it is highly preposterous to imagine a future without its existence. Many reasons other than significant growth in population like waterlogging,soil sanity, a sudden occurrence of manmade and natural disasters like floods and droughts, exploitation of groundwater resources which has further led to its depletion and the climate crisis have contributed in worsening the water crisis.

It also needs to be noted that freshwater exists in different forms in different regions, that is, ice in glaciers and liquid form in lakes, rivers and under the ground. Moreover, the availability of water doesn’t guarantee efficient distribution of it among the topographically diverse regions of the globe. The scarcity of this resource and its immense value as an indispensable human need makes it an asset of global and national worth. Therefore, it is essential to formulate policies regarding it at national as well as global levels. The planning systems primarily study water as a resource and then formulate policies by critically analyzing all possible aspects of it.

On the global front, while some organizations are working towards this cause, the most prominent one seems to be UN-Water, an organizational body under the United Nations that is solely devoted to water conservation and sanitation. Established in 2003, it has achieved various milestones when it comes to tackling the water crisis through a three-point method –First, Inform Policies, Second, Monitor and Report & Third Inspire Action.

A few of the major contributions of this organization include placing the issue of sufficient water supply and sanitation in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable development, celebrating 22nd March as World Water Day with the hope of creating awareness among the masses and declaring March 22, 2018 to March 22,2028 as the International Decade for Action-Water for sustainable development. At home, the situation is much worse. As per the Composite Water Management Index Report released by the Niti Aayog in 2018, more than 18 metropolitan cities including Delhi,Mumbai and Chennai and going to run out of groundwater by 2020. Other than that, we experience drastic differences between the experiences of two regions within the same country, that is, while a city like Chennai is living in drought-like conditions due to major scarcity of water, Mumbai is highly flooded and the rainy season seemed to be never-ending.

Although the Indian government first took notice of the dwindling condition back in 1985 under the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development, and Ganga Rejuvenation. A global concern emerged in the late nineteenth century that believed that the water crises were a result of improper governance and unspecific policies more than poor infrastructure and technological issues which highly contributed to forming a strong policy in this domain. In 1987, The first National Water Policy was articulated and it put the basics in place. It was formulated from a socialist point of view and hence believed that justified and adequate water rates will ensure that it is accessed by all. Rigid compartmentalized divisions were created regarding water allocations and the priority was given to drinking water followed by irrigation and hydropower. The policy was first updated in 2002 and various changes were made with the response to the changing technological and social advancements. Non-conventional methods like an artificial recharge of groundwater, desalination of seawater as well as traditional methods like rainwater harvesting were proposed for conservation and from preventing further exploitation. In the age of globalization, ecology,agro-industries, and navigation gained priority over-irrigation and other multipurpose projects. The 2012 update, came up with very stringent recommendations like ‘polluter pays’ principle and institutionalization of community-based water systems.

While each update bettered the policy, we haven’t witnessed any visible benefits of it. Loopholes like ‘water is a state subject and central has no right over making policies regarding it’ come in the middle of larger projects.

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