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Environment and health
Water quality is a major issue in India. Although in their upper reaches most rivers are of good quality, the importance of water use for cities, agriculture and industries, and the lack of wastewater treatment plants in the middle and lower reaches of most rivers cause a major degradation of surface water quality. Groundwater is also affected by municipal, industrial and agricultural pollutants. The over exploitation of groundwater can also lead to seawater intrusion. For example, there is an inland advance of the saline-freshwater interface in the Chingelput district of Tamil Nadu, where a well field along the Korttalaiyar River supplies water to the city of Madras.
In 1992, the Central Pollution Control Board completed water quality studies in all major river basins. The pollution control action plan of the Ganges River basin was formulated in 1984 and has been enforced by the Ganges Project Directorate, under the Central Ganges Authority, to oversee pollution control and the consequent cleaning of the Ganges River. The water quality in the middle stretch of the Ganges River, which had deteriorated to class C and D (the worst class is E, the best A), was restored to class B in 1990 after the implementation of the action plan. Similar programmes for other rivers have been developed, as well as a national river action plan to clean the heavily polluted stretches of the major rivers.
According to the National Commission on Floods, the area subject to flooding is an estimated 40 million ha (about 12 percent of the area of the country). About 80 percent of this area, or 32 million ha, could be provided with reasonable protection. Bihar is the worst flood hit state. Hardly a year passes without severe flood damages. With the onset of the monsoon, rivers come down from the Himalayan hills in Nepal with enormous force, leading the following rivers the Ghagra, Kamla, Kosi, Bagmati, Gandak, Ganges, Falgu, Karmnasa, Mahanadi to rise above the danger level. This results in severe floods in North Bihar.The Kosi River, popularly known as “the sorrow of Bihar”, has not yet matured enough to settle on a course, and has changed its course 15-16 times, the last time as recently as August 2008. About 2.8 million people were said to have been marooned by these floods in Bihar.
The total area subject to waterlogging was an estimated 8.5 million ha in 1985, including both rainfed and irrigated areas. This is thought to be a substantial underestimate as precise data are lacking. It is estimated that about 24 percent irrigated command areas of major and medium irrigation projects is subject to waterlogging. Measures to counter waterlogging and salinity are being taken by constructing field channels and drains, and by encouraging the combined use of surface water and groundwater. Furthermore, it is estimated that out of the total irrigated area about 3.3 million ha are affected by salinity.
Water-borne diseases have continued to increase over the years in spite of government efforts to combat them. States such as Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh are endemic for malaria as a result of the high water table, waterlogging and seepage in the canal catchment area. There are also numerous cases of filariasis. In 1998 the population affected by water-related diseases was 44 million inhabitants.
Climate change may alter the distribution and quality of India’s water resources. Some of the impacts include occurrence of more intense rains, changed spatial and temporal distribution of rainfall, higher runoff generation, low groundwater recharge, melting of glaciers, changes in evaporative demands and water use patterns in agricultural, domestic and industrial sectors, etc. These impacts lead to severe influences on the agricultural production and food security, ecology, biodiversity, river flows, floods, and droughts, water security, human and animal health and sea level rise.