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Growing water crisis and One water Approach (OWA)

GS Paper 3

Syllabus: Economy: Water/Agriculture


Sources: D2E, The Hindu

 Direction: Similar to the ‘One Health Approach’, the One water approach is very important. We have also combined points from the Hindu editorial article on India’s growing water crisis. Those giving mains this time, do remember a few points on OWA.

 Context: In view of the water crisis and the issue of management, OWA has been formulated.

Status of Water Crisis:

      • UN has estimated that by the year 2050, four billion people will be seriously affected by water shortages, which might lead to multiple conflicts between countries over water sharing.
      • 31 countries are already facing a shortage of water and by 2025, there will be 48 countries facing serious water shortages.


      • Global Drought Risk and Water Stress map (2019) shows that major parts of India, particularly west, central and parts of peninsular India are highly water-stressed and experience water scarcity.
      • NITI Aayog report, ‘Composite Water Management Index’ (2018): more than 600 million people facing acute water shortages.

Impact of water crisis:

      • Rural-urban water disputes are very likely to occur as scarcity grows, exacerbated by climate change
      • Triggers sectoral and regional competitiong. water disputes between countries.
      • Silent crisis of a global dimension, with millions of people being deprived of water to live and sustain their livelihood.

 Need for One Water Approach (OWA):

      • Failure to value water in all its forms is considered a prime cause of the mismanagement of water ( UN World Water Development Report 2021, published by UNESCO on behalf of the UN-Water)

Characteristics of OWA:

      • The mindset that all water has value — from the water resources in our ecosystems to our drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.
      • A multi-faceted approach meaning that our water-related investments should provide economic, environmental, and societal returns.
      • Utilising watershed-scale thinking and action that respects and responds to the natural ecosystem, geology, and hydrology of an area.
      • Partnerships and inclusion: all stakeholders come forward and together will take a decision.


      • Reliable, secure, clean water supplies
      • Aquifer recharge
      • Flood protection
      • Minimising environmental pollution
      • Efficient use and reuse of natural resources
      • Resiliency to climate
      • Long-term sustainability
      • Equity, affordability and accessibility to safe drinking water
      • Economic growth and prosperity


      • A ‘One Water’ approach is key to combating urban challenges, managing resources
      • Shift needed from single-minded, linear water management to multi-dimensional integrated water management technique

OWA (also known as Integrated Water Resource Management) is superior to the conventional water management approach:

Conventional Water Management ApproachOne Water Approach
Drinking water, wastewater and stormwater are managed separatelyAll the water systems, regardless of their source, are managed in a connected way and given equal worth
One-way route from supply to use, treatment and disposal.


Water is recycled and reused several times
Use of Stormwater not considered.Stormwater is utilised as a valuable resource to fight against water scarcity, recharge groundwater and support natural vegetation
Grey infrastructure in conventional water managementMix of grey and green infrastructure that form a hybrid system
Collaboration is need-basedActive collaborations with all stakeholders, including communities.


Case study:

      • Singapore: It is working towards becoming a zero waste nation by reducing our consumption of water, materials, and reusing and recycling them to give them a second lease of life. It has been following OWA for decades now.
      • Los Angeles: One Water Los Angeles has formulated a LA 2040 Plan through a “Three legged stool approach” that ensures water quality improvement, water supply augmentation and flood risk mitigation, using recycling and reuse.


Insta Links

Water management in India


Mains Links:

 Water is one of the most important topics having multi-subject linkages in UPSC. Do have your notes prepared for it covering multiple dimensions.

Q. Analyse the availability and usage of water in India. In the context of ‘One Water Approch’, discuss the measures that are needed for effective management of water in India. (250 Words)


Prelims Link

Consider the following statements: (UPSC 2015)

      1. The Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme was launched during 1996-97 to provide loan assistance to poor farmers.
      2. The Command Area Development Programme was launched in 1974-75 for the development of water-use efficiency,

Which of the statements given above is/ are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: B

The Accelerated Irrigation Benefits Programme (AIBP) was launched in 1996 as a central assistance programme, with the aim to accelerate the creation of irrigation potential.

The Command Area Development (CAD) programme was initiated in 1974-75 with a view to bridging the gap between the potential created and its utilisation and optimising agricultural productivity through better management of land and water use in the command areas served by selected major and medium irrigation projects.