Eminent environment specialist Erik Stokstad has nicely summarised the global use of water and its supply: 'H2O. Is there any other molecule so vital, and so problematic, for people? Without water, agriculture vanishes and power plants grind to a halt. In other places, floods wreaks havoc. Millions of people every year die from drinking contaminated water. To help solve these challenges related to freshwater, scientists in many disciplines are applying new tools and techniques. They are trying to understand the impact of climate change on water quantity and quality, and predict future needs and threats. One recent development is making use of water-for drinking or industrial purposes-from sources that are otherwise considered unusable. Another emerging area is the ecological impact of activities related to the energy industry such as fracking or carbon sequestration. Other researchers are trying to increase the efficiency of farms and factories, the biggest consumers. Water scarcity already poses a great threat before economic growth, human rights and national security. As per recent UN estimates, nearly 1.2 billion people - around 20 per cent of world population - were living in areas where the limits of sustainable water use had already been reached or breached. It is high time that the issue needs to be placed high on the global agenda. In fact, the world is urgently required to adapt to the reality. There is still enough water for all of us if and only if we keep it clean and share the same. In fact, we face the challenge that we must make safer stores of water available to all.'
A GLOBAL PHENOMENON: Recycling water and finding better ways to remove salt from seawater hold the key. According to a recent study, population growth could cause global demand for water to outpace supply by the mid-century if current levels of consumption continue. Periods of increased demand for water - often coinciding with population growth or other major demo graphic and social changes - were followed by periods of rapid innovation of new water technologies that helped end or ease any shortages. Researchers, using a delayed-feedback mathematical model that analyses historic data to help project future trends, have identified a regularly recurring pattern of global water use in recent centuries. Based on this recurring pattern, researchers from Duke University predict a similar period of innovation could occur in coming decades.
It has been an area where adequate attention is to be paid immediately so that things do not go from bad to worse. It is essential for survival - more important than anything else - the most crucial factor considered from the viewpoint of environment protection, poverty alleviation and development promotion. As much as over two and half billion people now live in the most abysmal standards of hygiene and sanitation globally. Wastage of water and absence of regular clean water supply simultaneously coexist not only in the burgeoning metropolis but also in huge rural regions.
In India, although accessibility to drinking water has increased considerably during the last decade in particular, around 10 per cent of the rural and urban population still does not have access to regular safe drinking water. During critical summer especially, the condition goes from bad to worse in many parts of the country. Excessive extraction of groundwater to meet agriculture, industrial and domestic demands is steadily harming the rural and urban settlements. The immediate need there is to invest in reliable, proven and advanced water purification system that guarantees the public - in rural and urban areas - safe and pure drinking water at all times. Latest technology available on this score must be extensively made use of in a time-bound manner to protect human beings from getting crushed via pollution routes.
It's true that we're still at a very early stage of awakening. A realistic approach - obviously not by holding seminars and observance of World Water Day only - can mitigate the problem. The responsibility lies equally with government sector as well as the private sector - thereby checking the unrestricted exploitation of groundwater, encouraging planned urbanisation, optimising use, restricting the flow of effluents from industrial units to the rivers and effectively discharging the duties and responsibilities related to corporate social responsibility.
EFFORTS ARE ON, STILL THERE'S ONE BUT: It is good to note that companies on this score are coming up steadily. One such company Ecolab - that provides their service to about 40,000 customers in more than 170 countries around the world - has been bringing in positive moves like promises to maximise asset life. There is a positive impact on process efficiency too. Ecolab intends to further leverage the lot and machine learning to enhance its proactive services to ensure that water is conserved and available to both business and communities they operate in. Hopefully, the next generation 3D TRASAR technology reduces, reuses and recycles water. The technology can not only monitor the water usage at a customer's site and alert whenever things go out of control, but also can take remedial actions based on stress levels on the systems and induce chemicals or reduce water usage to maximise the life of the asset and can minimise the usage of water.
It is crystal clear that population growth would put further strain on per capita availability of water. Efforts to enhance drinking water supply must move at a greater speed so as to cover all of the villages with adequate potable water connection/supply. Technology, needless to say, would play the bigger role in such a context to meet people's basic needs in a sustained manner. Naturally, protecting fresh water reserves, watershed development, chemical treatments following the safety norms, tackling the arsenic and fluoride contamination, among others, could give rich dividends. The government has to come up with a new water resource strategy, since the sector needed to become more sustainable, efficient and focused on how water is used and how it reaches the people.
To ensure economic growth and political stability, approach to water management must be positive, forward-looking and not myopic! Let there be no water conflicts - between the users and across the regions. Water limits are close to being breached in several countries, while food output has to increase by up to 100 per cent by 2050 to sustain a growing world population, according to the United Nations. Besides, the World Bank (WB) has rightly said that key problems in India's water sector include data secrecy, competition for resources, too much focus on increasing supply and not enough on management.
Time is ripe to extensively use lot to holistically manage water and energy usage. Further efforts must be intensified to maximise the use of technology to proactively conserve water and improve performance in water-intensive industries. A forward-looking realistic plan has to focus on improving data collection on the location and types of water resources, promoting water-saving farming technologies, developing sewage treatment facilities alongside water projects, and establishing a national monitoring body and a new legal framework for the sector. As we can't expand in a quantitative sense, we have to expand by using our water more carefully. The grave concern here is the fact that the total cost of environmental damage in India, as per WB estimates, amounts to 4.5 per cent of GDP and of this, 59 per cent results from the health impact of water pollution!
Dr BK Mukhopadhyay is a management economist.