“Water- a bequest of nature” bases all innovations in curbing water crisis to make our blue planet green and sustainable.
The day is approaching…when we celebrate water in our lives. World Water Day is observed on March 22 every year to help us realize how water has kept us ‘living’ over billions of years. Since the advent of civilization, the humankind has left no stone unturned in harnessing the sources of water and veining it out to the people. Water generation systems like fog harvesting, artificial condensation, water generators, water from manure are emerging to channelize the advanced know-how towards innovative water ‘production’. Water treatment technologies comprising water purification through sunlight, Euglena BioFiltration, forwards osmosis, ultrasound desalination and vapour compression distillation have been developed to weed out the most stubborn water impurities in order to metamorphose any raw water source into potable water.
Now, the disturbing question is, why after all, are people drinking contaminated water all across the globe, leaving close to 2 lakh dead every year in India alone? Just a week prior to World Water Day, the ill-fated reports revealing the looming water scarcity in various regions in India are making headlines. The government of India has recently issued a note warning against the severe water crisis that would fall upon the country as the ‘death note’ for many. This compels us to introspect the state of water in our country because access (of water) certainly doesn’t mean safety (of human health).
With 4% of the world’s renewable water sources, India constitutes 2.45% of the world’s land area. Almost 70% of the surface water and an increasing percentage of groundwater are being tainted by biological as well as chemical, organic, inorganic and toxic pollutants (MoEF, 2009).
UP followed by Assam has the largest number of people exposed to high levels of arsenic in the water they drink. As per the World Health Organization, long-term intake of such water leads to arsenic poisoning or arsenicosis. WHO’s guideline value for acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water is 0.01 mg/litre, whereas, in the absence of the alternative source of water, arsenic level of 0.05 mg/l could be treated permissible. The situation is dire as people across many states in India are being slowly poisoned by the arsenic levels in their water unacceptably higher than the recommended numbers. Punjab thrived post green revolution only to become a spawned hot spot of infertility and cancer due to pesticides depleting its precious groundwater reserves. The population of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh suffer enamel loss and bone deformities due to high levels of fluoride in their water. Similarly, the lead concentration in many states of the country ranges from 50 to 400 parts per billion while for the acceptable limit as per BIS Drinking Water Specifications (IS-10500 1991), the lead content in water should not exceed 50 parts per billion. What lies behind the shiny faucets used in Indian households is the fact that the brass manufacturing of pipes and cisterns leaches lead into the water causing severe damage to the human body. Excess lead consumption damages the kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, brain and the nervous system. Thus, contaminated water can lead to diseases like cholera, tuberculosis, dysentery, jaundice, diarrhoea etc. In fact, polluted water is the cause of 80% stomach ailments in the country.
According to Safe Water Network Report, India ranks a dismal 120 out of 122 nations for its water quality and 133rd out of 180 nations for its water availability. The report, Water in India: Situation and Prospects mentions that 45% of India’s children are stunted and 600,000 children under five die each year, largely owing to inadequate water supply and poor sanitation. Inadequate sanitation also poses economic burden on the country as India loses 90 million working days a year due to water-borne diseases (McKenzie and Ray, 2004).
What India faces today portrays the poor implementation of various legislative provisions to meet the challenges in the water sector such as the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974, Environment Protection Act 1986 and relatively recent National Water Policy 2012. Stipulating new approaches of water management would go in vain if their execution suffers bottlenecks. The Budget allocation for 2019-20 for the national river conservation programme has reduced to Rs. 1,220 crores from Rs. 1620 crore in 2018-19. This lacklustre attempt by the government is nothing but a contradiction to its daunting forecast of disastrous ‘desertification’ in the country.
Huge groundwater dependent population, urbanization, uncertain climate-resilient recharge processes, indiscriminate use of rivers and other surface water sources for disposal of sewage and industrial waste, trans-boundary upstream water sources and archaic irrigation methods have created a two-fold challenge of water scarcity and water pollution.
The water extremities cannot be attributed to the failed efforts of governing agencies alone. Each one of us is responsible for this ‘cancer’ to spread in every ‘organ’ of the country. Recharging groundwater, ponds and lakes through rainwater harvesting, scientifically-prudent planning to prevent polluted water from entering the rivers, economical methods of household and community water purification, as well as pervasive groundwater governance, can act as saviours in the times of changing socio-economic needs pertaining to water consumption. In fact, Individual efforts by the civilians to conserve water and maintain its quality would result in a ‘butterfly effect’ implying that our small efforts would have a non-linear impact on the country’s water resources. Community ought to be engaged in WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) practices like the regular and seasonal treatment of water, washing hands after defecation, checking for leaky pipes and chlorination etc.
The change management needs to begin at the organizational level engaging school children in water monitoring, encouraging workers and employees to preserve water and use it as a ‘rare resource’, since oil has a substitute and water doesn’t. Water is the wealth of the planet. It should be treated as a national treasure by each country and a central subject by India, not just a state matter. Besides, “We need a cultural revolution in this country to completely change people’s attitudes toward sanitation and hygiene,” said Jairam Ramesh, an economist and Poor Sanitation in India.
From parched regions to polluted water, India is facing the worst water crisis in its history. It’s time to redefine the water as ‘rare resource’. Cooperative federalism, community activism and accountability of central government would form the three major pillars to carry the weight of water issues in the country. Don’t wait for your taps to run dry, you might not have a glass of water to drink the day you decide combating water crisis!
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