By ASIT BHAGAT:
We all recognise that fast growing Cities need a sustainable supply of usable water. However with global water resources remaining constant but its quality and its management deteriorating, water is mankind’s nemesis.
The sight of women carrying pots to fetch water from far away distances becomes common, especially in the countryside, during summer. Miles have to be walked to fetch water as all possible sources in the neighborhood go dry or the government taps stop running. In the last few years the problem has intensified and assumed a significantly different form owing to changes being imposed by phenomenon such as global warming.
While to many, summer is the period meant for absolute enjoyment, to those facing water shortages it is turning out to be a scourge. Water crisis, during summer, has always been there especially in the regions receiving low rainfall, with arid geography, such as Marathwada in Central Maharashtra. However, in recent times, drying of water sources is being witnessed on an unprecedented scale much before the beginning of summer. Many areas across India have been witnessing water shortages right from December or even before that, which has become a matter of concern.
Also, surprisingly, regions receiving sufficient rainfalls during monsoon are amongst those which are experiencing water shortage problems in the magnitude that is not warranted given the rainfall quantity received in these areas. The problem associated with adequate requirement of water is not just restricted to India. Rather, it has become a global problem. In February 2018, BBC released a report about eleven cities across the world, facing severe water shortages. Interestingly, most of these cities are either capital of their respective countries or important commercial centres. Bengaluru, the IT capital of India, happens to be one these eleven cities.
Inclusion of Bengaluru is an example of how increasing population pressure in metros is impacting the water resources thereby affecting the water supply. If the issues are not addressed in a timely manner, the situation in Bengaluru won’t be different than that of being experienced in Cape Town, the worst affected city in terms of water shortage issues in the world currently. Speaking of rural India and the water crisis problem, it can be said that rural India has become accustomed to it. Indian villages thrive on well water or freshwater from rivers or streams flowing by them.
Like their urban counterparts, who distinguish between various types of water viz. drinking water, water for household purposes etc., the rural people do not have any such scope. In summer, any source of water that can help them sustain becomes their lifeline. Kids swim in active rivers to refresh themselves from sizzling temperatures, alongside is a lady washing clothes, followed by others who are taking water to be used at their homes. In rural areas, supply of water, during shortages, is not as frequent and as easy as it is in the urban areas. Sometimes village folks have to walk miles under the scorching sun to fetch water. Similar analogy cannot be drawn for an urban scenario barring the urban poor who, in some respect, can be said to be equal to rural people in terms of experiencing the hardships. Water crisis, to a few, is a good opportunity to generate income.
These are especially those who call themselves water suppliers. They claim to provide water even in worst of the situations, sending tankers of water to the customers assigning tags such as ‘drinking water’. In reality, this so called drinking water can hardly be compared to potable water and doesn’t even match it in any parameter. The truth is, during summer, water suppliers fetch water usually from unused wells. The fetched water is supplied seldom attesting it fit for drinking, let alone other purposes. But then, water, as it may be, becomes ambrosia for people witnessing the harsh summers. However, given people’s health, it becomes essential on the part of the suppliers to take into consideration the accountability associated with the service. To combat the menace of water crisis, it is necessary to identify underlying factors that are making the problem worse.
While people keep panicking about water crisis and government’s role in solving the problem, they forget their own role and its importance in tackling the issue. The problem of water crisis is not a sudden event, but it is a periodical development. It has worsened over the period of time, for which the role of humans cannot be denied. Today, one of the grave problems that countries across the globe are facing is that of Global Warming, which has significantly affected various patterns of nature. One of its negative effects can be seen in the form of irregular monsoon that India has been witnessing for the last couple of years. During monsoon, areas which hitherto received adequate rainfall are experiencing shortfall or excess of rainfall, affecting the life in general and agriculture in particular. Moreover, erratic rainfalls continue to bother many regions in India throughout the year. Given these unpredictable happenings, the effect has been serious on water resources.
Natural calamities unfolding strange events confirm the connection of water crisis with global warming. In the recent Kerala floods, a vast area was drowned that severely affected the life, and brought the region to a standstill. However, soon after the floods receded, the region experienced an extreme dry spell, much to the surprise of everyone including climate scientists and environmentalists. With the effects of global warming intensifying day by day, such surprises related to changes in nature shall become common. Rising temperature as an effect of global warming has been strongly impacting water levels and affecting the physical, chemical and biological characteristics of freshwater bodies. Water crisis is a result not just of excessive exploitation of water resources by people, but also of many negative changes that humans have forced on nature.
Global warming is the outcome of these impositions,acting as one of the very important contributors in making the problem worse. Effective water management techniques act as a good solution, especially during dry periods. However, to completely overcome the problem of water crisis, the issue needs to be addressed at its root in which active participation of people is needed. Usually, regions with low density of tree cover face acute water shortages. However, with abrupt changes being inflicted by global warming, the direct proportionality of a region’s dryness with low rainfall has become weak. Anyway, given the fact that trees improve soil’s water holding capacity, concepts such as ‘social forestry’ can prove useful. Social forestry is a concept which focuses on converting non-forest unused lands to forest lands. Afforestation in this form, amongst other solutions, can act as a long term solution to the problem. It has a potential to deal with the nemesis of water crisis and to mitigate the ill-effects of global warming. With freshwater resources depleting fast, it becomes essential to make judicious use of water and protect the resources.
The plight of the Indian rivers can be captured by rising water pollution which has turned the rivers into marsh. It’s not just the major rivers, but every single resource, including a nearby pond, that needs to be protected. Indian rivers have well been converted into dumps. Overuse and pollution have changed the form of Indian rivers. Every day, high volumes of industrial and sewage wastes are emptied into the rivers. Yamuna is a very good example. The pristine waters of Yamuna have been subjected to the utmost exploitation making the river the most polluted in the country. Many other rivers, including the major and minor ones, throughout the country, are no exceptions. Who’s going to suffer by the defilement of the rivers? Releasing of industrial wastes, fertilizer run offs from agriculture farms and sewage wastes into a water body results in artificial eutrophication, a phenomenon that causes excessive deposition of nutrients in the water body.
The subsequent effect is algal bloom and dense growth of plants that become extremely harmful, depleting the supply of oxygen in the water body, and converting it into marsh with no marine life. The end result is absolute defiling of a freshwater resource. It is meaningless to shout in the name of water crisis. Rather, purity of water resources should be ensured. Not doing so would be equivalent to not valuing the resources at one’s disposal. Water is the most important asset for entire humankind. Imagining life without it is impossible. To protect this asset and to ensure a better water future, realization of individual responsibility is essential, without which overcoming the menace of water crisis would be difficult. While action plans are initiated, it is important to stick to them. Learning from the past and present experiences, and considering water conservation a duty, society should play an active role in preserving and maintaining water resources intact