The former Secretary General of UNO, Boutros Buotros Ghali had prophesized, “The next war will be fought over water, not politics. Water will be more important than oil this century”. Save that drop of precious water or go totally dry after fifty years from now. As per Hindu philosophy, the five basic elements of life are: Vayu (air), Agni (fire or heat), Jal (water), Prithvi (earth or soil) and Byom (sky or cosmic). Without the combination of these five, life on earth would not have been possible and life would not exist. Apart from water rest other elements are still in abundance, albeit not in good shape. But water shortage has become a nightmare almost all over the world. It’s not just a philosophical thought, it’s getting real at least in the flourishing city of Cape Town, South Africa. Cape Town has totally run out of water and the authorities have declared April 14, 2019 as the last day of water supply to its inmates. The crisis is already on the anvil for many other cities. This indeed is a wakeup call for the entire world. We are really living dangerously.
Even two years ago the “Day Zero” in Cape Town was not predicted. The city has been ravaged by three years of continuous drought forcing authorities to resort to rationing of water to the citizens under the watch of armed guards. Only 6.5 gallons of water issued per day per family now, against 80 to 100 gallons an average American uses. Ironically, Cape Town city in situated on the sea shore with beautiful beaches. Water, per-se, is all around but not a drop to drink like in Samual Tailor Coleridge’s famous ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’, the lost sailor in the mid sea exclaimed, “Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink.” Can you imagine a situation when your household water supply is cut by 90 percent and you are forced take a shower just for two minutes and stop flushing your toilet? But if we do not take pragmatic actions right now, we will be forced to survive that way.
70 percent of the planet is covered with saline water in huge seas and oceans, but is not potable and fit for drinking, bathing or irrigating the fields. Fresh water availability is only 3 percent of word’s water pool, of that too, two third of it is unavailable in form of frozen glaciers. Most of the people in developing and underdeveloped countries do not have access to safe drinking water. Arsenic and similar poisoning have become common. 1.1 billion people word wide lack access to water, for 2.7 billion water is scarce, 2.4 billion people lack proper sanitation and are exposed to water borne diseases and 2 million people, mostly children, die each year of such diseases. It’s high time to ring the alarm bells, loudly!
Out of this available one third of the 3 percent fresh water, agricultural activities consume about 70 percent of it but 60 percent gets wasted on account of inefficient usage. Unprecedented ecological changes have altered the water hydrology around the world resulting in water shortage and droughts in many areas in one hand and hitherto never witnessed devastating floods in others. Ecology has no political boundaries. The horrific devastation caused by recent floods in Kerala and many other locations, even in the developed world, cloud bursts and droughts are the cases in point. Climate scientists predict that by the year 2025, two thirds of the world may face water shortage. But on the other hand, 21 million people worldwide are now at risk of river flooding every year. The number is likely to increase to 54 million by 2030. Because of ever changing climatic situation, the water management planning has gone haywire. At this rate the planet will not be able to satisfy everybody’s thirst.
Nature has its own ways to replenish water sources by precipitation of rain water, soaked in streambeds, grasslands, fields and forests. But many of our water systems that thrives our ecosystem are severely stressed. Rivers and lakes are drying up and more than half of world’s wetlands have disappeared or are severely polluted. But in the enthusiasm of development we have created concrete jungles in way of roads, buildings, parking-lots, driveways, roof-covers, drains etc., blocking vast areas impeding natural penetration and allowing rain water to finally flow out into the sea without replenishing the ground water level.
Let us try to understand why we are facing global water crisis and sincerely try to find ways of mitigation:
- We are changing the natural ecological balance very fast, making dry areas drier and flooding others.
- More people, more mouths to feed and more money resulting in more and more water demand.
- Severe depletion of ground water. 54 percent of India’s ground water wells are drying up. (Look at the situation in Guwahati city).
- Water infrastructure and management is in dismal state. Only in the USA, 6 billion gallons of treated water is wasted every day.
- Ruining natural infrastructure of trees and plants that replenish ground water.
- About 80 percent of world’s water is discharged back into nature without treatment and further use.
- Water as a resource is seriously undervalued. As long as people do not face water scarcity, they are complacent and think its availability is natural and easy.
It’s high time to tighten our belts. Fortunately, a few countries have taken up water management holistically, like Israel recycle 90 percent of water, China is using “sponge city” concept for ground water replenishment etc. We must remember that, ‘We have not inherited the earth from our forefathers, but merely borrowed it from our children’. Posterity will curse us for our lack of sensitivity.
(The article has been published to commemorate World Water Day which is celebrated on March 22 every year. The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at email@example.com.)