India creates new ministry to tackle growing water crisis

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APTOPIX India Water Shortage

Indiand stand in queues to fill vessels filled with drinking water from a water tanker in Chennai, capital of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Wednesday, June 19, 2019. Millions of people are turning to water tank trucks in the state as house and hotel taps run dry in an acute water shortage caused by drying lakes and depleted groundwater. Some private companies have asked employees to work from home and several restaurants are closing early and even considering stopping lunch meals if the water scarcity aggravates. (AP Photo/R. Parthibhan)

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's government has created a new ministry to respond to a growing water crisis, with more than 60% of the country's 1.3 billion people dependent on farming and favorable monsoon rains.

Indian President Ram Nath Kovind told Parliament on Thursday that the new Ministry of Water Power will tackle water conservation and management.

Kovind said traditional water conservation practices are disappearing as ponds and lakes are filled to build houses and other developments, and that vanishing water sources have worsened the crisis for the poor.

Millions of people have been forced to rely on water from tank trucks in the southern Tamil Nadu state, which had a 62% shortfall in monsoon rains last year.

Kovind said water shortages are one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century and are likely to be worsened by climate change. He said the creation of the new ministry "is a decisive step in this direction, which will have far-reaching benefits."

The government is assessing the possibility of connecting rivers in various states to help with regional water shortages. Several Indian states have disputes over the sharing of water carried by rivers and have petitioned the Supreme Court to obtain larger shares.

Experts recommend the restoration of open areas to recharge groundwater, the prevention of polluted water from entering groundwater, and the collection of rainwater from roofs.

Kovind, whose position is largely ceremonial, addressed both houses of Parliament at the start of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second term after his party's massive victory in elections last month.