Sunday, September 23, 2012

Water Matters

Earth is known as the blue planet because of the vast quantities of water that predominate the surface of the planet. It is surmised that life began in those waters. Regardless of how true that assertion is, the fact is that life on this planet is made possible through a combination of factors amongst which water is as critical as say oxygen or sunlight that is filtered to warm the earth without burning it. So having over 70 per cent of the planet's surface covered in water sounds good except that life is sustained on earth through freshwater and all the seas and oceans of the world are filled with saline water. And unlike the seawaters, freshwater is shrinking commodity. 

Of the 71 per cent water covering the planet's surface, only 3 per cent is non saline. And that 3 per cent is distributed across the forms; glaciers , rivers, lakes and ground water. Not only is the human body composed primarily of water but water is one of the fundamental premises for life on earth across life forms; birds, bees and all things that breathe need water. Unfortunately, so do all other things such as agriculture and industry. Simply put, life is water intensive . Possibly the biggest problem we face is one that is entirely man made: pollution of water sources. Urban centres in India and in many other countries are faced with the mammoth task of not only providing access to clean drinking water but of dealing with the waste that is generated. Statistically, one of the biggest challenges in development around the world is posed by the need to provide everyone with access to clean water for consumption . Its lack equals a whole lot of diseases. A disproportionately large number of deaths can be related to water : lack of clean drinking water and sanitation is now the single largest cause of illness worldwide. It is estimated that by 2020, more people will have died due to water borne diseases and the lack of clean water than the HIV/AIDS pandemic. 

The increasing pollution of our rivers, the overdrawing of water from underground sources which is leading to the lowering of the water table alarmingly, and the constantly increasing demand for access to clean water are all leading to a very severe crisis in the making - water scarcity. So how do we work towards averting that crisis even as we deal with the developmental challenge of providing people with access to clean water? 

Conserve water 
Every drop conserved is, in the long run more valuable than oil. So, make sure that your taps don't run while you brush your teeth, dripping taps should be fixed immediately and in every activity of daily life that needs water be conscious of how much you actually need and how much you waste thoughtlessly. Remember , water is a finite resource ; it will disappear thanks to our interruption of the water life cycle and when that happens you will regret every drop you wasted . On a more optimistic note, if each of us who are lucky enough to have access to running water around the clock undertook to reduce our consumption by a mere 1 litre per day (which, if you actually work it out, is less than the amount you waste in a day), it could make a substantial difference. It would ease the strain on the infrastructure and allow more people access to clean water since the same quantity would be able to serve more people. 

Rainwater harvesting 
It is perhaps the simplest way of not only conserving water but of saving the planet in the long run. Rainwater harvesting is a method of channelling rainwater under the ground, allowing for the replenishment of the ground water table. In urban areas, as a result of concretisation and tarred surfaces , most of the water runs off into the sewage system instead of soaking into the earth. Given that it is our abuse of the water resources that is causing a crisis , it is our duty to do everything that we can to help the water cycle. And rainwater harvesting is amongst the easiest of solution. While it is now mandatory for government buildings, it can easily be implemented at the level of individual households too. And only then can it become effective. The problem is immediate, and if the solutions are not immediate then the future looks extremely dry.

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