"Population expansion, rapid urbanization and developmental needs have exerted tremendous pressure on India's water availability," President Pranab Mukherjee said in his opening address Monday at the India Water Forum 2013 in New Delhi.
While India has 17 percent of the world's population, it holds only 4 percent of the world's renewable water resource, Mukherjee said, noting that in 10 years -- from 2001 to 2011 -- the per-capita availability of water in India dropped from 1,816 cubic meters per year to 1,545 cubic meters and is projected to fall to 1,140 cubic meters by 2050.
The president said India's current legal framework regarding water is inconsistent and inadequate to deal with the country's complex water situation.
"A broad over-arching national legal framework of general principles on water could pave the way for essential legislation on water governance in the country," Mukherjee said. "Concerted effort is also required to make the water sector policies and regulations clear, coordinated and comprehensive. Only then can India hope to mitigate the impact of the looming water crisis."
India's Infrastructure Development Finance Co., a non-governmental group, says 14 of India's 20 major river basins are considered water-stressed, as they are strained by the country's rising population and economic growth.
"As we grapple with diminishing water resources and escalating water demand, water use efficiency holds great promise. In today's context, the saying 'water saved is water generated' is truer than ever before," Mukherjee said.
The president said water management must also address the threat of climate change.
"By altering river flows, decreasing groundwater recharge, intensifying floods and droughts, and allowing salt water intrusion in coastal aquifers, climate change can severely affect water resources. This challenge has to be met by efficient water management," he said.
While agriculture previously was India's biggest consumer of water, the president said "unprecedented urbanization" has shifted water usage from rural to urban consumers, "creating an inter-sectoral rivalry."
"With the sources of water remaining unchanged, this inter-sectoral competition over allocation of water is likely to rise in the future," Mukherjee said.
The meeting was organized by The Energy and Resources Institute, the World Bank and India's Ministry of Water Resources.
The World Bank had announced Friday it will provide $360 million in loans for water-related projects, including modernizing irrigation, rebuilding dams and drainage systems, and for groundwater studies in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.