WATER-A CRISIS, CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS

Prof. D. Pathak

Significance of Water

Nature has been kind as earth is the only recognised planet having water and life till day.  Water is an indispensable item like air for survival of not only human species but the entire living organism of this planet. Hindu scriptures are full of prayers beckoning the rain gods to give plenty of water. Water is the most indispensable element of life and is essential for existence. The significance of water in our life is evident as it helps the body to carry out definite metabolic tasks and controls our body temperature; in addition, water carries nutrients to all cells in our body and oxygen to our brain. Water allows body to absorb minerals, vitamins, acids, glucose and other substances. Water flushes out toxins and waste and helps to regulate our body temperature.

Water links and maintains all eco-systems on the planet. It is an important source for nutrients for people, plant, animal and planet earth as all need water for their survival. Had there been no water there would be no life on earth. The human body is more than three-fourths water as it helps breakdown food and keeps organisms cool. The physical performance will suffer if we are not hydrated enough. When the heat is high and we must undertake intensive exercises, it is even more important to drink plenty of water. It boosts energy levels and makes up for the water lost through perspiration. Even if we lose 2-3% of our water content in the body, we will be dehydrated. To regulate the body temperature, stay energized, improve motivations and do away with fatigue, we must drink plenty of water.

Water Crisis

Water scarcity is the lack of fresh water resources to meet the standard. Water scarcity can also be caused by droughts, lack of rainfall, or pollution. This was listed in 2019 by the World Economic Forum as one of the largest in terms of potential impact over the next decade. Two-thirds of the global population (4 billion people) live in conditions of severe water scarcity for at least a month of the year. Half a billion people in the world face severe water scarcity all year round. Half of the world’s largest cities experience water scarcity.

A mere 0.014% of all water on Earth is both fresh and easily accessible. Of the remaining water, 97% is saline and a little less than 3% is difficult to access. Technically, there is a sufficient amount of freshwater on a global scale; however, due to unequal distribution (exacerbated by climate change) resulting in some very wet and some very dry geographic locations, accentuated by a sharp rise in global freshwater demand in recent decades driven by industry, humanity is facing a water crisis. Demand is expected to outstrip supply by 40% in 2030, if current position of availability of potable and other water usable for for other purposes continue at the present position.

The essence of global water scarcity is the geographic and temporal mismatch between fresh water demand and availability. The increasing world population, improving living standards, changing consumption patterns and expansion of irrigated agriculture are the main driving forces for the rising global demand for water. Climate change, such as altered weather-patterns (including droughts or floods, deforestation, increased pollution, greenhouse gases emissions, and wasteful use of water can cause insufficient supply. At the global level and on an annual basis, enough freshwater is available to meet such demand, but spatial and temporal variations of water demand and availability are large, leading to (physical) water scarcity in several parts of the world during specific times of the year. Scarcity varies over time as a result of natural hydrological variability but varies even more so as a function of prevailing economic policy, planning and management approaches. Scarcity can be expected to intensify with most forms of economic development, but, if correctly identified, many of its causes can be predicted, avoided or mitigated.

According to world Economic Forum Report-2019, 844 million people lack basic drinking water access, more than 1 of every 10 people on the planet, women and girls spend an estimated 200 litters of water every day, the average woman in rural Africa walks 6 kilometres every day to haul 40 pounds of water, and more than 800 children under age 5 die from diarrhoea attributed to poor water and sanitation. By 2050, at least 1 in 4 people likely to live in a country affected by chronic or recurring fresh water shortages, 2.3 billion people live without access to basic sanitation, and 892 million people practice open defecation.  This report also points out that the UN ‘Sustainable Development Goal’ aims to provide universal access to clean water and sanitation as 90% of all-natural disasters are water-related.

Between 2000 and 2025 the global average annual per-capita availability of renewable water resources is projected to fall from 6600 cubic meters to 4800 cubic meters. Given the  uneven distribution of water resources, however, it is much more informative that some 3 billion men and women will live in countries wholly or partly and or semi-arid zone that have less than 1700 cubic meters per capita, the quantity below which one suffers from water crises. The water gap scenario indicates that by 2025 about four million people – that is, half the world population will live in countries where more than 40% of renewable resources are diverted towards human usage. Projections under the business as usual scenario show diverging increases in water use—even without making sure all demands get satisfied—with the largest uncertainty being whether we keep expanding irrigation and other agro-based activates.

The statistics taken from UN World water Resources Report-2019 points to a dismal picture as is evident from the following Table:

Expanding Irrigation Stable Irrigation
USE 1950 1995 2025 2025
Agriculture

-Withdrawal

-Consumption

 

1100

700

 

2500

1750

 

3200

2250

 

2300

1700

Industry

-Withdrawal

-Consumption)

 

200

20

 

750

80

 

1200

170

 

900

120

Municipalities

-Withdrawal

-Consumption

Reservoir (Evaporation)

 

90

15

10

 

350

50

200

 

600

75

270

 

900

100

200

Total

-Withdrawal

-Consumption

 

1400

750

 

3800

2100

 

5200

2800

 

4300

2100

Source: World Water Report -2019 

The Challenges

The earth’s water supply is never replenished from space as is the case with solar energy which we get from the sun. However; nature has developed mechanism to maintain the earth’s water supply which is known as ‘water-cycle’. Unfortunately, humans are inclined to disturb these water-cycles with huge distraction of ingenious regulation, pollution and water wastages for usage in industries, etc. A realistic view of the main challenges can be deduced from the following questions:

Will the rate of expansion of irrigated agriculture continue as in recent decades, or will it slow down, as appears to be indicated by reduced investments in the sector? Can improvement rates in water use efficiency or preferably, water productivity be increased   drastically on short notice to ease the water crisis? How can technological and institutional innovation be stimulated to improve these rates? Can water productivity for rain fed agriculture be accelerated? Will policies emphasise national food self-sufficiency or global food security (involving governance and trade issues)? What contribution will biotechnology make to increased water productivity? Will genetically modified crops gain public acceptance in Europe and developing countries? Will this call for capacity building for water storage? Can the recharge to aquifers used for irrigation be drastically increased to prevent a groundwater crisis—without major environmental impacts? Will there be increasing or decreasing public opposition to large dams in developing countries? Will the hydropower potential in Asia, Africa, and Latin America be developed at the rate of past decades to meet the rapidly increasing demand for electricity? How can affordable water storage be created with acceptable environmental and social impacts? Will reforming water resource management institutions be necessary? Will governments implement policies to charge the full cost of water services? Will current trends towards decentralisation and democratisation empower communities to select their own level of water services? Will the trend towards transferring management of water systems to water users continue, and will these users be assigned stable water use rights? Can governments and the private sector form effective public-private partnerships and develop a service-oriented approach to water management, accountable to users? Will countries be prepared to adopt comprehensive approaches to land and water management? Will this lead to valuing ecosystem functions? Will wetlands continue to be claimed for agriculture and urban uses at current rates? Or can this trend be stopped or even reversed? Will wetlands receive enough water of good quality to maintain their biodiversity? Will environmental or dry sanitation make the expected breakthrough and become adopted on a wide scale? Will there be increased demand for investments in wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal in rapidly developing emerging economies? Will transition economies upgrade their systems? Will this lead to an increased co-operation in international basins? Will countries recognise the need to cooperate as scarcity in international basins increases? Will they make binding agreements on how to share the resources of rivers that cross national boundaries? Will the public sector increase research funds to foster innovation on public goods aspects of the water sector— such as ecosystem values and functions, food crop biotechnology, and water resource institutions? Can innovation be linked to effective capacity building, education, and awareness rising? Will science, with the help of information technology, develop innovative approaches to improve water resource data, real-time methods, seasonal drought forecasting, and longer-term cyclone and flood warnings?

Thus the three global scenarios known to us, are:

  • Business as usual – a continuation of current policies and extrapolation of trends.
  • Technology, economics, and private sector – private sector initiatives lead research and development, and globalisation drives economic growth, but the poorest countries are left behind.
  • Values and lifestyles – sustainable development, with an emphasis on research and development in the poorest countries.

Solutions

Develop and enact better policies and regulations

 As water scarcity complicates food security and pollution, governments need to redefine their role. The U.S. government is considering expanding the Clean Water Act. to ensure more protections. In Russia, meanwhile, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has approved waste discharges in Lake Baikal, one of the world’s largest bodies of freshwater. Regardless of what path Circle of Blue/Globe Scan Water Views Survey indicates they are considering multiple approaches–the survey also found that most people say it is up to the government to ensure communities have access to clean water.

Holistically manage ecosystems

Simply put, holistic management applies to a practical, common-sense approach to overseeing natural resources that takes into account economic, cultural, and ecological goals. In essence, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and each facet is related to and influences the others. Good examples of holistic management are communities that operate sewage treatment plants while pursuing partnerships with clean energy producers to use wastewater to fertilize algae and other bio-fuel crops. The crops, in turn, soak up nutrients and purify wastewater, significantly reducing pumping and treatment costs.

Improve distribution infrastructure

A considerable amount of water overflows during floods in North India inundating States like Uttarakhand, UP, Haryana, Punjab, Bihar, Bengal, Assam, North East and other northern states while southern India do not face these problems as much. Linking north Indian rivers with Krishna, Kaveri, Godavari, etc in the south were suggested but so far nothing has been done.

Poor infrastructure is devastating to health and the economy. It wastes resources, adds costs, diminishes the quality of life, and allows preventable water-borne diseases to spread among the vulnerable population, especially children. The problem is not confined to the developing world. Pipes burst on a regular basis in the USA and as they do in India, causing wastage of water prompting alerts to authorities. Sewage treatment systems regularly overflow and malfunction affecting the distribution and management.

Build international frameworks and institutional cooperation

Binding international accords for natural resource issues are hard to achieve. The 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is evidence of this. This isn’t because the freshwater crisis, arguably the most visible and dire of the climate change risks, was ignored. Regional agreements regarding trans-boundary or shared water-bodies such as the great lakes in the USA and the Nile River Basin agreement in Africa are just as difficult to ratify. But policymakers and advocates need to keep trying. Humanitarian-oriented treaties, such as the UN drinking-water Millennium Development Goals confirms that comprehensive global water strategies are possible.

Address pollution

Measuring and monitoring water quality is essential to human health and biodiversity. The unbridled increase in pollution level through allowing hazardous effluents and chemicals, wastages of the factories and industries in the river, lack of sewage plants allowing all filth and dirt to mingle in water through thousands of drains, throwing of flowers, wastes, burnt ashes and even dead corpses are the perennial sources of pollution distorting ecology and environment.

Public Common Resources

One of the key United Nations ‘Millennium Development Goals’ or MDGs is to ensure access to drinking water. While the steps to achieve this goal are debated, the thesis that water is a basic right comes into play. Chile’s attempt to reform water rights is a pointer. U.S. politicians are considering how access rights translate into federal protection of Lake Michigan. We in India must also apply concerted efforts to build more reservoirs for water and aim for its conservation through mandatory rain-water harvesting for every infrastructure project as this will increase ground-water availability.

R&D/ Innovation

Access to water in a water-scarce world will become a much high priority in business decisions. Communities are likely to pursue public-private partnerships that draw on the innovative capacities of companies. For instance, cities that operate sewage treatment plants are likely to pursue partnerships with clean energy producers to fertilize other biofuel crops with waste-water.

Water projects in developing countries/ transfer of technology

Climate change and water scarcity are producing the most dramatic consequences in developing regions such as northwest India and sub-sub-Saharan Africa. One proposed solution is to transfer water conservation technologies to these dry areas. Doing so is tricky because economies are weak and there are gaps in skills that often compel government and business authorities to impose these changes on locals.

Climate change mitigation

Climate change and water scarcity go hand-in-hand to cause some of the biggest contemporary challenges to the human race. These issues have a reciprocal relationship, identified by the inter-governmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in which, “water management policies and measures can have an influence on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” As renewable energy options are pursued, the water consumption of these mitigation tactics must be considered in producing alternatives ranging from bio-energy crops to hydropower and solar power plants”.

Population growth control

Due to the accelerating growth in global population many parts of the world could see a supply-demand mismatched up to 65% in water resources by 2030. Currently, more than one billion people don’t have access to clean water. With seventy percent of the world’s freshwater used for agriculture, water’s critical role in food production must be considered.

 



References:

Wikipedia

UN Water Report-2019

World Economic Forum Report-2019

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