Water, water everywhere...

Tags: Knowledge

...but over a billion people lack access to clean drinking water

Water, water everywhere...
United Nations declared March 22 as World Day for Water. The theme of the 2014 water day is water-energy nexus and one of its aim is to address inequities for the people who live in slums and impoverished rural areas and survive without access to safe drinking water, adequate sanitation, sufficient food and energy services.

Water is so precious that some call it ‘oil of the 21st century’. The problem is: although there is enough water, it is not available where it is needed. The use of water is rising faster than the global population. Though there’s plenty of water on earth it is not enough; only 2.5 per cent of it is fresh, and out of which two-third is snow and ice. According to the estimates about 8 per cent of the planet’s fresh water supply goes to domestic use, about 70 per cent is used for irrigation and 22 per cent in industry. Over a billion people lack access to clean drinking water. Over two billion live without adequate sanitation leading to the deaths of five million people, mostly children, each year from waterborne diseases. We need integrated water resource management that takes into account who needs what kind of water, as well as where and how to use it most efficiently.

Some regions of the world have too much water, whereas some other regions suffer from perpetual shortages. In some regions water supplies are contaminated. One of the UN millennium development goals is to cut the proportion of people without access to clean water by half by 2015. Even if this goal is fulfilled the sad thing is that millions of people will still die because of contaminated water.

Rainwater harvesting, equitable water distribution and prevention of pollution through proper sanitation are some known methods for water conservation. To meet present needs and enhanced demands of water we need appropriate social and engineering solutions. One way is to divert the flow of water from plentiful to scarce regions. This, however, has certain limitations. One of the most important limitation is that no one wants to think that he has more than what is required by him. Water loss in urban supply systems is also a significant problem.

India receives plenty of monsoon rainfall that feeds many large rivers of the country. Still it is facing acute water shortage in many parts, especially because the groundwater is overexploited and is not being adequately replenished. Moreover, rainfall is not uniform all over the country. It has been suggested that water-surplus rivers are required to be linked so that the intervening drought-prone regions get requisite water. Some planners, however, are sceptical about this approach of river linking. They say it may ease water scarcity in some regions, but the problem is that rivers change their course, and once they are linked, future change of course can create problems. There are some whoare concerned that the river ecosystem would change; there would be large-scale deforestation and population displacement, and that India can ill afford the enormous cost that the project would entail. We need to address these challenging problems.

Waterborne infectious diseases are major health risks. Water-related diseases are due to microorganisms and chemicals. The cause of these diseases include protozoa (giardia, entamoebic dysentery, cryptosporidium), bacteraia (cholera, shigella dysentery), and viruses (hepatitis, rotavirus, enterovirus). To resolve microbe related water problems we need to have microbial risk assessment (MRA) system in place to addresses questions like: Which water treatment option is best for preventing illness and death? What are the most dangerous pathogens found in water? How did they get there? How do we set standards for water quality? Who are the most sensitive members of the population and how can we protect them? What should we do for the optimal utilisation of the resources to prevent waterborne diseases?

There are gaps in our understanding of human exposure to pathogens in water. Inte­rpretations of analytical methods for specific pathogens or “marker” pathogens are necessary to provide a robust capability in this area. Researchers are working on the development of rapid, inexpensive, and easy to use methods to resolve clean water crisis.

If water could speak it would say, “Save Me to save You.” zz

(The writer is a

biotechnologist and ED,

Birla Institute of Scientific Research, Jaipur)

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