Scary Scarcity of Life s Driving Force

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Scary Scarcity of Life s Driving Force

Sunday, 23 June 2024 | DR KAUSHAL KANT MISHRA and DR VINAY PATHAK

Scary Scarcity of Life s Driving Force

Water is a driving force and fuel for all nature. India’s water crisis is increasing day by day, especially in metropolitan cities. To address this problem is the urgent need of the hour, say DR KAUSHAL KANT MISHRA and DR VINAY PATHAK

Water is the key resource for sustaining life on Earth. It permeates every aspect of our existence, from the biological processes that occur within our bodies to the agricultural systems that produce our food or source of energy. The critical nature of water is further underscored by its finite availability and the essential roles it plays in maintaining ecosystems, supporting economic activities, and ensuring human health and well-being.

As global populations continue to rise and climate change intensifies, the pressure on our water resources is mounting, highlighting the urgent need for sustainable management and conservation practices. The significance of water cannot be overstated; it is the lifeblood of our planet, making the stewardship of this precious resource a paramount concern for all.

Securing water resources is paramount because, unlike energy, there are no alternative sources for water. It is an imperative that transcends environmental and geopolitical boundaries. We are often guided by the same motivations and methodologies in water related matters like we do for energy. However, unlike energy, which could benefit from a diverse array of alternative sources, water remains singular in its indispensability and irreplaceability. Energy resources can be substituted, green sources for fossil fuel, solar for coal, nuclear power for thermal power and so on. The situation is quite different when it comes to water.

The total volume of water present on planet earth is constant. If we discount the amount of water contained in meteors, water does not come to this planet in any significant form. Our exorbitant exploitation of this natural reserve is making water ratio available for human diminish alarmingly.

Alternative energy resources like wind energy, solar energy, have become quite reliable alternatives to the traditional fossil fuels. These alternative energy sources do provide pollution free and sustainable means for the planet’s energy needs.  We can use ethanol for petrol or mixture of both and it still works.

In contrast, water has no such alternatives. These renewable sources are diverse and abundant, enabling a flexible and resilient energy supply system. There is no renewable or alternative water that can replace the freshwater required for drinking, sanitation, agriculture, and industrial processes. This stark difference underscores the critical nature of water and the imperative to manage it wisely.

While advancements in technology have enabled us to harness the power of the sun and wind, the same cannot be said for creating new sources of water. Thus, the focus must be on conserving and efficiently managing the water we have, ensuring its availability for future generations.

The absence of viable substitutes for water underscores the urgency of safeguarding our existing supplies through comprehensive, integrated approach encompassing the demand side and also the supply sides of the equation. Ensuring water security involves not only protecting the quality and quantity of freshwater sources but also includes improvements and in the water supply, transmission, sanitation infrastructure to withstand the impacts of climate change and population growth. This requires coordinated efforts at all levels of governance to commit and deploy far reaching policy reforms, technological innovations, and community engagement.

The stakes are high, as the failure to secure water resources could lead to severe social, economic, and environmental consequences. Let’s convince ourselves and decide to call water not as water resource but water reserves.

According to a US geological survey the total water reserves on this planet is 1.36 billion kms. Out of this only 2.5 per cent is freshwater and out of that 0.3 per cent is liquid while the rest is frozen in glaciers and poles. Scarcity of water is actually scarcity of access to water reserves, which is pervasive. As per UN estimates around two billion people suffer from some form of water stress. This number is only going to increase in near future.

In the Middle East and North Africa, the annual per capita water availability is less than 500 cubic meters, far below the threshold for water access. Similarly, in Sub-Saharan Africa, recurrent droughts exacerbate the already limited access to safe drinking water, affecting both rural and urban populations.

The world’s most populous countries, India and Chinaface significant challenges due to the over-extraction of groundwater depletion and water reserve contamination. In Chennai, the situation turned dire in 2019 when the city’s reservoirs dried up, leading to a severe drought. This crisis was exacerbated by delayed monsoons and overdependence on groundwater, prompting emergency measures like water tankers and rationing. Bengaluru’s crisis this year in April needs no reminder.

The local impacts of water reserve access are profound and varied, affecting communities in different ways depending on their geographic, economic, and social contexts. In regions like California in the United States, prolonged droughts have led to severe water restrictions, affecting agricultural productivity and leading to economic losses.

 In India, the state of Maharashtra has experienced recurrent droughts, leading to crop failures and driving rural-to-urban migration as farmers seek alternative livelihoods. These local impacts highlight the interconnectedness of water scarcity with other critical issues such as food security, economic stability, and social cohesion.

Overuse and mismanagement of water reserves are primary drivers of water scarcity. In agriculture, inefficient irrigation practices lead to significant water wastage. For example, traditional flood irrigation methods can lose up to 50 per cent of water to evaporation and runoff. Transitioning to more efficient methods, such as drip irrigation, can substantially reduce water use while maintaining crop yields. In industry, water is often used in large quantities for processes such as cooling, cleaning, and manufacturing. Without proper recycling and reuse strategies, this water is discharged as waste, contributing to the depletion of local water reserve sources.

Household mismanagement also plays a role, with excessive water use for activities such as lawn watering, car washing, and inefficient fixtures leading to unnecessary wastage. Addressing these issues requires a multifaceted approach that includes technological innovation, regulatory measures, and public awareness campaigns to promote more sustainable water use practices across all sectors.

Climate change has a profound impact on global water cycles, exacerbating water reserve access scarcity and contributing to the depletion of freshwater reserves. Rising temperatures lead to increased evaporation rates, reducing the availability of surface water in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.

There may be increased rainfall and flooding which sometime increases the chances of contamination of water supplies and infrastructure damage. The variability and unpredictability of climate change’s effects on water availability necessitate adaptive management strategies that can respond to these changing conditions. This includes enhancing water storage infrastructure, improving water use efficiency, and developing robust monitoring and forecasting systems to better manage water resources in a changing climate.

In many developing countries, inadequate sanitation infrastructure exacerbates the problem, leading to widespread contamination of drinking water reserves. Addressing water pollution requires stringent regulatory measures to control industrial emissions, promote sustainable agricultural practices, and improve waste management systems.

Further, increasing the expenditure in water treatment methods may help mitigate the problem. Public awareness and education campaigns are also crucial in promoting responsible behaviour and reducing pollution at the reserve source. The health and well-being of communities depend on the availability of clean and safe water, making the prevention and mitigation of water reserve pollution which is a critical component of water reserve management.

Thus, the call to action is clear: we must prioritize water reserves as a central pillar of sustainable development.

Efficient water reserves management is key to tackling the problem. We have to ensure sustainable use of water resources. In agriculture, the adoption of advanced irrigation techniques, such as drip-irrigation and sprinkler based systems, can significantly reduce water use while maintaining or even improving crop yields. These new and innovative technologies deliver water directly to the plant roots and reducing the overall need for water.

In the industrial sector, recycled water supply in-plant reuse policy may substantially decrease water consumption. By treating and reusing wastewater within industrial processes, companies can reduce their reliance on freshwater sources and lower their environmental impact. Household water-saving technologies, such as low-flow fixtures, dual-flush toilets, and rainwater harvesting systems, can also contribute to significant water savings.

Encouraging the widespread adoption of these technologies requires supportive policies, financial incentives, and public awareness campaigns. By implementing efficient water management practices across all sectors, we can reduce water wastage, enhance water security, and promote sustainable development.

All individuals, industries, and governments need to act collectively and urgently to protect and manage our water reserves. The right time to get together and respond to the call for action is right now. The water we save today is the water we generate for tomorrow.

(The writer is Dr Kaushal Kant Mishra is Delhi-based senior orthopaedic surgeon Dr Vinay Pathak is Assistant Professor, IIIT-Sonepat)

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