50% of districts in India could face ‘severe’ water scarcity by 2050: Report

Subramani Ra Mancombu

India, considered one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, will likely face the most severe impacts of water shortage by 2050, a report on improving water efficiency in the country’s agriculture sector has said.

The country could face a 15 per cent decrease in per capita availability by then, with projections putting in a 30 per cent increase in demand, highlighting the impending demand-supply gap. By 2050, 50 per cent of the districts in the country are expected to face severe water scarcity.

With India having nearly 17 per cent of the world’s population but only 4 per cent of the freshwater resources, two-thirds of the people currently grapple with water scarcity, said the report, “Transforming Crop Cultivation: Advancing Water Efficiency in Indian Agriculture.”DCM Shriram Foundation, supported by DCM Shriram, and Sattva Knowledge Institute, a knowledge platform for the impact ecosystem, came out with the report a fortnight ago.

Pegging India’s current utilisable water resources at 1,123 billion cubic metres — roughly equivalent to 40 crores of Olympic-sized swimming pools — it said the country’s existing water sources face increasing pressure.

Falkenmark index

The pressure was mainly due to population growth and pollution, with key sectors such as agriculture further exacerbating the crisis due to high water withdrawals. According to the Falkenmark Index, regions with less than 1,700 cubic metres of water per capita annually are considered to face water scarcity. Based on this index, nearly 76 per cent of the population in India is currently grappling with water scarcity, it said.

The impact of scarcity on groundwater resources has been the most critical. Agriculture worsens the water crisis, with 80-90 per cent of overall water withdrawals, the report said.

Water scarcity is primarily driven by excessive agricultural usage, which accounts for around 90 per cent of water withdrawals in India. “Being an agrarian country, irrigation by far is the largest user of India’s water reserve, with a whooping usage of 84 per cent of the total water reserve, followed by the domestic sector and the industrial sector and this trend is going to persist as per 2025 and 2050 projections,” it said.


The agriculture sector uses water extensively for the cultivation of certain crops, due to the natural characteristics of these intensively grown crops and the inefficient water usage practices used to grow them. At least 90 per cent of India’s total crop production is reliant on three key crops: rice, sugarcane, and wheat.