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Water Contamination: SERIOUS THREAT AND DEPLETING, By Dhurjati Mukherjee, 28 May, 2013 Print E-mail

Events & Issues

New Delhi, 28 May 2013

Water Contamination


By Dhurjati Mukherjee


Water management is becoming a crucial challenge today. The lack of clean water supply in urban areas has engulfed major parts of the country and led to a spurt in water-related disease. Worse, even groundwater is unfit for drinking, a shocking fact confessed by the Government to Parliament recently. In a reply to a question, it confessed that iron levels are higher than the prescribed in 254 districts and the fluoride levels have breached the safe level in 224 districts.


Equally scandalous, the Government admitted that salinity had risen beyond tolerance levels in 162 districts while arsenic levels were higher than permissible limits in 34 districts. The worst hit were Rajasthan, Karnataka and Gujarat in which 21 of its 26 districts have dangerous salinity levels and 18 breached safe fluoride stages.


In Karnataka 21 of its 31 districts are contaminated with iron and 20 with higher fluoride levels. In Rajasthan 30 districts had higher fluoride levels, in 27 groundwater was too saline and 20 districts suffered iron contamination, the Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) reported.


More shocking, National Capital Delhi fared no better, with 5 districts showing fluoride contamination and two salinity. Eastern West Bengal’s 11-12 districts have high arsenic levels as do many other States.


This apart, developing countries like India discharge effluents to the surface water without treating it or with little treatment due to technological and economic limitations. Also, colours affect water’s nature, inhibit sunlight penetration and reduce photosynthetic action. Some of the dyes cause rapid depletion of dissolved oxygen, adversely affecting aquatic life.


Thus, water treatment systems have become imperative before supplying H2O to homes. Alas, municipalities are not equipped to remove heavy metals like arsenic resulting in the chances of contamination remaining. Moreover, water treatment costs are increasing and most municipalities with limited resources are unable to carry out the work without levying water tax.


Add to this, the rise in demand availability of fresh water reserves has become a severe problem which would have fatal consequences in the coming years. Whereby, the per capita consumption is expected to double from 89 litres per day in 2000 to 167 litres per day in 2050, thereby increasing total consumption to such a position that the country might become ‘water stressed’ by 2016-17.


Pertinently, India’s utilizable surface water is estimated at 690 BCM and the replenishable groundwater resources of 422 BCM, totalling 1122 BCM. According to estimates, given the population growth, urbanization and industrialisation the use of gross water which was estimated at 522 BCM, jumped to 750 BCM in 2000 and is expected to reach 1050 BCM by 2025.


Besides, approximately 40 per cent available water resources are considered utilizable due to many factors. Think. Two-thirds of the country’s renewable water is in areas that serve only a third of its population and only around 30 per cent of the wastewater generated in metropolitan cities is treated. And this is just the domestic water.


To top it all, there is poor treatment of industrial waste water, water pollution etc. Around 6.2 billion litres of untreated industrial waste water is generated every day across India, polluting not only rivers and its tributaries but also canals and seeping into groundwater sources.


Undeniably, the increasing demand for water combined with low levels of treatment facilities available in the country pose a big problem resulting in severe consequences on health, especially of children. According to UNICEF estimates, 88 per cent of childhood fatalities are caused by inadequate sanitation, unsafe drinking water with poor hygiene. Appallingly, around 76 million people do not have access to safe drinking water while 245 million lack proper sanitation facilities. 


A study by Jadavpur University and the Kolkata Environmental Improvement Project (KEIP) found the demand-supply ratio could drop to 100:75 from the present 101:125 by 2025. Notwithstanding, the computed subsistence level of household water consumption to be 55 cubic metres per day, in reality the average usage is higher, between 150-200 cubic metres and much of it is wasted. 


Importantly, India needs a policy to reduce the wastage quantum especially in cities. This needs to be checked. To identify these areas, it is necessary to monitor this along-with motivating people to avoid wasting water.  The time has come for water rationing, especially during summer months.


Indeed, the challenges in the water sector are too serious which need re-thinking and examination by experts at the highest level. Logically, the quantity of blue (fresh surface or groundwater) and green water (rainfall that does not peter away or recharge groundwater) is difficult to adjust whereby the quality should be improved through legislative and monitoring measures such as protection from overuse, depletion and pollution.


The re-use of grey water (waste water generated from household usage) has immense room for improvement. Its recycling would help fulfil two objectives: Not pollute canals and water sources in rural areas and post cleaning it could be used for non-potable purposes. Thereby, separating grey from households and taking it back into homes after treatment for re-using would not only help the environment but also make better use of our precious fresh water reserves. In fact, this procedure has been adopted by many Western countries with great success.           


Experts feel that a higher allocation close to 4 per cent of the GDP, on water supply, sanitation and public health sector is imperative. Along-side water consumption by everybody should be judicious but most important is water management and supply. Therein, water intensive industry and H2O intensive agriculture might need to be curtailed but popularized recycling options and incentives should be adopted. 


In sum, one is reminded of the Water Vision 2025 report prepared by India Water Partnership (IWP 2000), which underscored the emerging challenges due to growing urbanization and industrialization. It surmised that by 2025 there would be a serious threat to health and ecological security.


The prescription for averting the crisis, it added were taking seven measures. One, private sector participation in water management; two, promotion of watershed management which are proven to be effective in recharging groundwater, soil fertility and enhancing productivity; three, stricter enforcement of environmental laws. Four, specific and stringent steps in pollution control; five, promotion of water conservation policies, especially of rivers, lakes and coast lines; six, changing agricultural practices to reduce non-profit pollution and lastly, large investments in this sector. Any takers? -----INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)























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