India is set to implement an engineering project that would divert water from major rivers to drought-prone areas in the country where 330 million people are affected, said a senior minister.
According to Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti, the project, known as the Interlinking of Rivers (ILR), is estimated to cost $168 billion. The initiative involves transferring 174 billion cubic meters of water annually from rivers to affected areas. The proposed system aims to better manage seasonal floods and drought and the same time extending irrigation and hydropower capacities all over the country.
The government said that the system will irrigate 35,000 hectares of land and generate 34,000 megawatts of electicity.
The project has 30 links planned, 14 of which are fed by Himalayan glaciers in the north and 16 in India.
"Interlinking rivers is our prime agenda and we have got the people's support and I am determined to do it on the fast track," said Bharti.
"The water crisis will be there [in the future] because of climate change but through this [interlinking of rivers] we will be able to help people," she said.
The Indian government is focused on managing watersheds and linking rivers to transfer water to drought-affected regions to fight the water crisis. India has 17% of the population but only 4% of fresh rain water resources.
However, environmentalists oppose the project and warn that the structure may damage the natural river system. "ILR is costly, environmentally destructive, socially disruptive and a non-optimum option, particularly in view of the changing climate condition, in addition to other issues," said activist Himanshu Thakkar.
India is facing one of its worst droughts. Almost half of the country's 29 states are reported to have suffered from extreme water crisis this dry season. Among the worst hit were Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The government ordered to send trains carrying water from Delhi to these areas.
India has been facing this water crisis for years. The country's ground waters have been depleted to an alarming level, blaming unsustainable extraction for agriculture and industries.
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