India belongs to the continent of Asia, situated in its southern part. India accounts for the seventh-largest country in the world, with an accumulated area of 3,287,263 square kilometers. India has all forms of landscapes profuse in it. India has treasured them all, whether it is the mountain ranges, plateaus, plains, deserts, or water bodies. India is bounded by major water bodies on either side. The Arabian Sea is west of India, the Lakshadweep Sea in the southwest, the Bay of Bengal that lies in the east, and the Indian Ocean in the south. Apart from these water bodies, India also has major and small rivers originating from different parts of the country and running through states.
There are 12 major rivers in India, rising from three main watersheds. The Himalaya and Karakoram ranges, Vindhya and Satpura range (central India), and Sahyadri or the Western Ghats (western India). The major rivers are Ganga, Yamuna, Brahmaputra, Narmada, Chambal, Kaveri, Beas, Tapti, Godavari, Chenab, Krishna and Saraswati. These break off into smaller rivers that flow and merge with either the Arabian Sea or the Bay of Bengal.
Water has been the cause of many concerns in our country. Water is scarce in India. People have to travel miles from their homes or use the dirty water to fulfill their daily needs. India has only four percent of freshwater availability, forcing households to live without water. The stories of India and its non-availability of freshwater resonate deeply, and the necessary actions are being taken by the government and the NGOs.
But, there is also a part of the story which is less spoken about regarding the water bodies in India. It is the rising water levels in its seas, oceans, and rivers. With this, the melting of glaciers in its mountain ranges is also adding to the water levels in its water bodies.
What stands today as another significant concern for India is the water levels. The water levels in Asia and India seem to be on the rise, which hangs millions of lives on the fringes of danger. As per the studies in The Indian Express, the continent will be at risk three times greater, while India will be at seven times greater risk if the water level continues to increase. It is estimated that more than 3.5 crore in India will risk losing their homes and lives due to increased water levels in the next 30 years.
The coastal areas are more vulnerable due to the direct geographic settlement near the water bodies. People living in Chennai, Kolkata, Mumbai, Kerala, and parts of Gujarat are more likely to face a graver risk due to being surrounded by water, either partially or at borders. Studies have also revealed that if we fail to cut down the carbon emission, which is on the rise today, the tidal water cover area will reach several places in the next 30 years. There are also chances for these places to be flooded once a year by 2050.
According to the studies, an increase as low as 50 cm in the sea level in coastal areas will lead to flooding. The extreme sea activities that appeared once in a century pose the possibility of becoming frequent every mid-century, threatening lives in low-lying coastal cities and small islands. Marine heatwaves have become common with the ocean warming up and have increased manifolds from 1982 to 2016. The impact of increased water levels can be further understood through the lens of different cities in India.
- Mumbai: As per the reports by a US-based climate organization, Mumbai will have its several places wiped out by 2050. Places in New Mumbai Dadar, Kandivali, Jawaharlal Nehru port will have no more of an existence.
- Chennai: Global warming can lead to an adverse effect on the water bodies in Chennai. According to the climate, central data flood presented by India Today, floods in future can destroy places like Perambur, Purasaiwakkam, and even the main Chennai city.
- Kolkata: Kolkata is more prone to face a grave water calamity than all the other states in India. It is mainly because of its location, which is close to the Bay of Bengal. As per the central climate data, 30 percent of the homes in the low-lying areas will wash away in the next 30 years.
A report by the IPCC in reference to 7,000 papers reveals that sea waters are constantly rising. The primary reason is the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas. The situation has turned grave, and even decreasing the carbon emission rate or the global warming rate will be of no use or minimal use in pushing the sea level below. 240 million people belonging to the Hindu Kush Himalayan will be affected due to the modifications in the cryosphere. Cryosphere refers to the frozen level of water of the Earth. This will, in turn, affect the world’s largest renewable supply of freshwater.
Evidence of water levels rising in India is becoming more frequent, making it one of the fastest countries to observe changes in water bodies. As per the Ministry of Earth Sciences, the water levels in Diamond Harbour port of West Bengal have seen an annual water rise of 5.16 mm since 2004. In the Kandal port of Gujarat, the water levels have been soaring up by 3.18 mm every year since 2005. Haldia, the prominent port of the Hoogly River in West Bengal, is also witnessing a rise in water level by 2.89 mm.
The prominent reason for the water levels to rise in India is because of the drastic climate changes. According to the fifth assessment report by the IPPC, India is seeing a growth in water levels by 1.8mm, and the major part at fault is climate change. The projects for ocean thermal expansion and ice melting at the poles of the Earth are only increasing since the beginning of the 20th century. In 2018, the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change presented to the Parliament that India must expect a rise of 864 mm in its water levels by the end of the 21st century. The Sundarbans region shared between India, and Bangladesh is home to more than four million people. It is, however, already showing the worst effects of climate change, which is leading to tidal surges, rise in water levels, cyclonic storms, and land salinity. The islands in Sundarbans were approximately 102, amongst which 54 islands have already vanished. Populous islands like the Mosuni are constantly losing lands, and in no time, they may vanish too.
The rise in sea level has endangered many homes. People living in coastal areas are prone to have water in their homes or be hit by any water calamity. The recent cyclone Tauktae, cyclone Yaas, cyclone Amphan had hit different parts of India and had abandoned many people. The increment in the sea level makes India more likely to have frequent floods, cyclones, and tsunamis. We need to reduce the activities which we are carrying out. The water increment will only lead to a future crisis of shelter scarcity, food scarcity and leave a large part of the population clueless. It can also make India vulnerable to erosion, wetland flooding, soil contamination, and lost habitat. The gravest consequence would be that the whole country submerges as time grows, and so does the seawater. Water is a necessity, but drinking them more will only choke our survival. We need to channel water in a structured way so that it reaches people for use rather than flowing and clogging our nation. In the words of Noam Chomsky, “Sea level rise and destruction of water resources as glaciers melt alone may have horrendous human consequences.”