The ongoing Covid scare may make fewer people head to Himachal Pradesh this summer. There is another reason why the hill state may not be the ideal getaway as the mercury rises. Himachal Pradesh is staring at an acute water shortage this summer due to deficient rain and snowfall. Reports of water shortage are coming in from several areas in the state, including Dalhousie and Banikhet.
The erratic rainfall and snowfall patterns being witnessed in the state in the last few years are because of climate change. It is a matter of concern that 335 water supply schemes are on the verge of drying up in a rain-deficit Himachal Pradesh. The alarm bells had started ringing in 2020, owing to low rainfall. The state recorded only 0.4 mm rain in October — a whopping 99 per cent less than the normal rainfall for the month.
Himachal Pradesh has 12 districts, of which nine districts recorded zero rainfall. In Lahaul-Spiti, Chamba and Kullu districts, light snowfall and rainfall were recorded. Chamba and Kullu were 99 per cent rain-deficit, with each receiving only 0.3mm rainfall. Lahaul-Spiti was 95 per cent rain-deficit, recording 1.5 mm of rain.
Himachal Pradesh is facing a severe water shortage, with Spiti recording 95 per cent less than normal rainfall. (Photo: Reuters)
Low rainfall during the winter months has exacerbated the water deficit. From January 1 to February 28, Himachal Pradesh received only 59 mm of rain, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. This is 69 per cent lower than normal.
Adding to the water woes of the state, a drop in water levels at the perennial sources has been observed. And this fall in water levels ranges from 25 per cent to 75 per cent. The less snow this winter has further aggravated the problem, with the fear of an impending water crisis looming large over the state.
Himachal Pradesh Jal Shakti Minister Mahender Singh Thakur has repeatedly said that the state is headed for an acute water crisis this summer. Speaking in the Himachal Vidhan Sabha, Thakur has stated that many water schemes of the state are on the brink of closure, and the summer of 2021 may be tough upon the state.
Other MLAs have also expressed concern about water shortage in their constituencies. Speaking in the HP Vidhan Sabha, Rohru MLA Mohan Lal Brakta said the situation in some villages is so bad that they do not have a supply of water for weeks. MLA Asha Kumari said that tourist areas like Dalhousie, which is her own constituency, and Banikhet, have also been suffering water shortage. Speaking at the state Assembly, she added that the situation may worsen in the summer months.
Due to a pattern of deficient rainfall and snowfall in the last few years, traditional water sources in the state like the bawri, wells, rivulets, springs, rivers and lakes, have started drying up. On account of the depleting water tables, the state did not allow the installation of hand-pumps and borewells last year. Amidst the fear of a water crisis, however, hand-pumps and borewells may be allowed this year. The state has asked all MLAs to build rainwater harvesting structures in their constituencies.
Capital Shimla, meanwhile, is in a relatively better shape this year as far as the water supply is concerned. Taps ran dry in 2019 in the hill station and the water shortage was so acute that residents had pleaded on social media asking the tourists to not visit the hilly town. Frantic scrambles at water tankers for even one bucket of water was seen back then. In fact, so severe was the crisis that the HP High Court ordered that water supplies be used for the common good and not siphoned off by VIPs.
Major reforms were undertaken in Shimla, including the state government setting up the Shimla Jal Prabandhan Nigam Ltd (SJPNL), jointly with the Shimla Municipal Corporation, to manage water supply and sewerage services. These responsibilities were fragmented earlier, leading to poor accountability and coordination.
The policy reforms initiated and institutionalised in Shimla need to be followed in the rest of the state. Himachal Pradesh needs a multi-pronged response system in order to deal with the impending water crisis.