The United Nations Environment Programme clearly states that two-thirds of the planet will be in water-stressed conditions by 2025; if the ongoing water consumption patterns continue. It is high time that necessary steps backed by increasing awareness as regards the water management issues are taken. Global awareness must be followed by actions -- legislation, funding, and governance as well as empowerment. Undoubtedly, as of now, water conservation and management continue to be the massive global concerns.
Water scarcity already poses a great threat before economic growth, human rights and national security. As per recent UN estimates, around 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 is placed high on the global agenda. In fact the world is urgently required to adapt to the reality.
Actually, for a 21st century company it has been all about the triangle -- water, food and climate change. The challenge could be mitigated if collaborative approaches were taken up backed by political will, market mechanisms and innovative technology. Market forces could work well under a cap-and-trade approach similar to those applied to carbon dioxide. Favouring market forces to play a role in the management of scarce water - defining the value of water - positively aids to take a big leap forward.
It is not a problem in our country alone - it is a global phenomenon - an area where immediate adequate attention is to be paid so that the 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 point of view of environment protection, poverty alleviation and promotion of development, as now globally more than two and a half billion people live in the most abysmal standards of hygiene and sanitation. Waste of water and absence of regular clean water supply not only exist in the burgeoning metropolis but also exist in huge rural regions simultaneously.
Even Beijing still remains drought-prone and shortages are expected to persist for years to come. Mighty Colorado river, North America, seldom meets the sea. One third of the US and one fifth of Spain still suffer from water stress. Central Africa's Lake Chad, supporting the very life of 30 million plus people has already shrunk one-tenth of its former size, the negative contributory factors being climate change, drought, mismanagement and over use, among others.
In India, though accessibility to drinking water has increased considerably during the last decade in particular, yet around 10 per cent of the rural and urban population still do not have access to regular safe drinking water and during critical summer especially the condition goes from bad to worse in many parts of the country still.
Excessive extraction of ground water to meet agriculture, industrial and domestic demands is steadily harming the rural and urban settlements. The available annual utilisable water in our country (surface plus ground) stands at 1100 billion cubic metres. Side by side, the grave concern here is the fact that the total cost of environmental damage in India, as per World Bank estimates, amounts to 4.5 per cent of GDP and, of this, 59 per cent results from the health impact of water pollution!
What is more a cause of anxiety is the fact that the adequate availability of safe drinking water is far from being satisfactory. Added to this, the very piping system into the home, unclean water tanks, improper drainage and waste disposal systems also contribute to impure or contaminated water. Again, presence of excess inorganic matters [iron, lead salts, etc ] also nicely paves the way for various ailments and diseases to occur like : constipation, dyspepsia, colic, paralysis, kidney disease and sometimes even death.
As opposed to popular perception, hardness of water is not a risk to health so long it does not contain disease causing pathogens and bacteria. Especially, during summer and rainy seasons the position goes from bad to worse - water-borne diseases become rampant. Extreme hot and humid environment is a favourite bacteria breeding season. The immediate need is thus there to invest in a 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 the human beings from getting crushed via pollution routes.
This adequately shows that immediate actions are to be taken to protect the wealth -- cutting down the number of people without safe access to water in a time-bound manner.
True. We are still at very early stages of awakening. A realistic approach - obviously not by holding seminars and observance of World Water Day only --can mitigate the incidence. The responsibility lies equally with the public sector as well as the private sector -- checking the unrestricted exploitation of ground water, encouraging planned urbanisation, optimisation of use [read Israel], restricting the flow of effluents from industrial units to the rivers and obvious enough stricter supervision and effectively discharging the duties and responsibilities related to corporate social responsibility.
As a whole the system should ultimately work as a part of the solution rather than a problem. The need is to move beyond mere use of water to stewardship -- to protect what is steadily becoming an increasingly scarce resource --ultimately benefiting the settlements/communities. 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 treatment following the safety norms, tackling the arsenic and fluoride contamination, among others, could give rich dividends. It is high time that the gross disparity prevailing on this score is addressed so as to mitigate the incidence. Investment / raising fund allocations on this infrastructure development will benefit all in the long run in as much as it will ensure coverage of all rural habitations to reach the unreached with access to safe drinking water; sustainability of the systems and sources and tackling the water quality problems in affected habitations.
The fact remains that time is running out, water is also running out. All of the related issues are to be assessed appropriately before any effective steps are decided upon. The issues are -- global change and risk management; governance and management; finance; human development and millennium development goal advancement; water resources and supply systems management and protection to meet human and environment needs; education, knowledge and capacity building.
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.
Dr. BK Mukhopadhyay is a noted management economist and international commentator on business and economic affairs.
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