SHOULD WATER TICH INDIA THIRST FOR WATER?

Ocean flooded  the earth even at the time of formation of solar system.  It has been known as a  blue planet because of its oceans, which covers 70 per cent  of  its surface said to be  the cause of greatest diversity  of life in this earth. 

There is, therefore, enough water, but  not  a drop to drink as for Coleridge’s  “Ancient Mariner”.  One has, therefore, to depend upon   the rain which is  filtered sea water drawn by the clouds to be showered back to earth.  But the voracious appetite  for water makes it scarce as seen by  a poet:

   “The thirsty earth soaks  up the rain,
    And drinks, and gapes  for drink again.
    The plants suck in the earth, and are
    With  constant drinking fresh and fair.”

Water is not only necessary for plants which feed on water, but potable water is necessary for  healthy living.  Scientists would forecast  a global water crisis because of the  rapid depletion  of surface water. 

According to a scientific  study, a  country or a region  is said to experience  “water stress”, when the annual water supplies  drops below 1700 cubic meters per person  per year.  Renewable water supply falls much below this limit in many countries, not necessarily limited to the Middle East.  Arid regions frequently suffer famines for lack of physical water scarcity.

Water rich India starves  for water

India is water rich, ranking with China, Indonesia, U.S., Canada, Russia  and Brazil.  It is because  the glaciers  from the high mountains  melt during summer  causing  copious supply of waters in   rivers like Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra  along with other perennial rivers from rains in  Narmada,  Krishna and Cauvery. 

But much of the  water  goes to the sea due to lack of storage resulting in  water shortage barring Southern rivers like Cauvery and Vaigai, the waters of which is fully utilised. 

There is, therefore, physical scarcity.  But there is also economic scarcity for lack of  investment in infrastructure or technology to retain the available water and have it distributed evenly throughout  the year  between different sections  of the population in the country. 

India remains  economically poor.   Due to  dry  environment  with inadequate harvesting of rain water, water is scarce.  Available water also becomes  unusable, since it   gets polluted.  In fact, one study reports that  the holy waters of  Ganges  at Varanasi  is not fit even for bathing due to pollution.  

Necessary steps

National water grid : Melting of glaciers due to rising global  temperature,  a world wide phenomenon,  causes floods in summer and dries up during other seasons.  The lesser availability of fresh water  has led to environmental  degradation.  Water stress  harms living things and plants equally, since  water is essential  for life.

  There is a mismatch  between supply  and use with agriculture being  a casualty.  Cities like Delhi and Chennai face acute water scarcity while available water gets   drained away to the seas for lack of  facilities for retention.  Enough storage facilities would help  rain water harvesting.    

It is best assured by National Water Grid  as for power under a Central Authority.  It will incidentally avoid or reduce the scope for inter-State dispute.  Linking of rivers over the years  is then a distinct possibility.

  National Water Grid  can be an Authority in the model  of Multi National Regulatory Authority as for  river Rhine  in Europe or Tennessee Valley Authority  in US covering many States.  Pollution control can be more effectively ensured by  such Authority.  

Rain water harvesting : Blessed as India is with fairly adequate  water supply, though not uniformly, it  need not suffer  from water stress, if  it has an effective rain water harvesting system.  

Storage capacity increase : Ponds are rarely desilted.   Holding capacity of even Hirakud dam  has gone down by 27.25 per cent due to lack of desilting over the years.   

Silts by desilting  is  a rich source of manure, while retention capacity  would be considerably enhanced.  Evaporation loss can also be significantly reduced by pouring liquid plastic over the water surface, a technology which has been tried and found successful in some countries. 

More water  tanks can certainly  be built around to collect either waters overflowing the rivers or merely to store water collected through  rain water harvesting.  Residents of water scarce Saurashtra region in Gujarat have a sizeable source of  drinking water supply throughout the year  with each  house having a water tank.  Our farms are ever thirsty. 

Thanjavur delta  faces uncertain  water supply.  Even a State like UP fed by gigantic rivers faces 50 per cent depletion in ground water.  Pesticide  and chemical contaminate ground water.  It is certainly possible to neutrailse the chemical damage as has been reportedly done by high-powered water  treatment plants.  

Moisture preservation : Agro engineering  can help to maintain production of our food crops in spite of   lesser availability of water by preservation of moisture content after  the rains by use of technology.  Micro irrigation  has been successfully practiced in some countries.  Dependence on  tubewells  is not a solution, since  the ground water level goes further down.  

Recycling used water : Recycling  of water especially  the waste including sewage water more so   industrial discharges, can be monitored, making available usable water, while curbing pollution caused by  discharge from industries and drainages. 

Fresh water  necessary for the industry can be availed by recycling.   The discharge of  such water from sewage and industrial discharges into our rivers and the open fields do great damage.  River Bhavani has been  so polluted that agricultural  production in the river-fed areas has been seriously affected.    

The deep pond system to collect  drainage and industrial discharges are known to have been treated by what is described as anaerobic exercise as is being successfully carried out in Hyderabad where 38,000 litres  of waste water  per day is processed. 

Having clean water  with artificial ponds storing treated waters can create wealth by way of prawn cultivation.  There are sporadic  efforts in different cities with Karnataka  known as water shed development projects claimed to be successful by an in increase of 30 per cent crop yield by such better water management.

Desalination – An effective solution

Desalination of saline water has the greatest scope by augmenting the supplies of potable water.  Such water can be useful for human consumption apart from irrigation. Valuable by-product like salt will be available.  Many sea going ships and submarines use this process of desalination for their needs. 

Large scale desalination is done   in Israel and United Arab Emirates meeting 40 per cent of  their domestic water needs.  Reverse osmosis  is the process  used in Spain.  Solar and  thermal agency can be used for this purpose. 

Atomic power is another valuable source which can help  desalination at a lesser cost.  Koodankulam atomic plant  can undertake desalination  to a great extent besides producing energy.  

Waste heat  from industries causing pollution can  be used for creating power.  A Canadian firm  has announced use of solar or thermal energy  by use of ion exchange membranes to remove sodium and chlorine from river water.

Nanotube membranes and other bio-mimetic membranes are also other approaches.   Another method is known as sea water green house preventing natural evaporation  and condensation process inside a green house powered by solar energy. 

Geo-thermal  energy can drive desalination.  This method is  used in most countries to supplement ground water.   Freezing technique  is still another method.  There is world-wide research going on for desalination by physical and chain processes.

Agro-based  protection for water

Mangrove trees can have  organic growth  in sea water.  Willow  trees are known to absorb  salt and other contaminants effectively to aid agriculture.

Research is needed

Scope for research from recycling of waste water  from sewage  is an on-going exercise, which is being increasingly undertaken but falling very much short of the need.  Periyar Maniammai University  has a project in collaboration with Thanjavur   municipality besides  other projects like providing drinking water as one of its object for its  scheme of Providing Urban Amenities for Rural Areas (PURA).

Conclusion

All the different  steps  discussed need examination.  The impending water stress is a threat to the economy, if not  tackled at a  fast pace.  Famines which India had to face periodically in the past are likely  to be repeated with reported and unreported suicides on the part of agriculturists serving as a warning. 

Water and air, though available, was not considered to be a “good” in economic sense as taught from text books in economics, but it is no longer true of water which is extensively bought and sold.  What is required is  awareness  of the seriousness of the problem. 

Water is too important a matter to be  left to the Government.  Non-governmental agencies  can help to create such awareness.  Our Universities  should contribute by undertaking research  for which, there is unlimited scope.

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