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TO TURN SCARCITY INTO PLENTY

Water resources, the world over are gradually becoming scarce. But most of us tend to ignore this reality and squander our water resources by leaving the tap open while bathing or washing or not turning off the pump even when the tank is filled to over-flowing.

The United Nations fears that by 2050, two-thirds of the world’s population will face a severe water shortage, and that the next war could well be waged over water, not oil. To spread awareness of the need for water conservation and a more responsible use of water, the UN has declared March 22 the world water day, and 2003, the international year for freshwater.

According to the world water council, in 1950, only 12 countries with a total population of 20 million suffered from water shortage, a figure that would increase to 65 countries with a population of 7 billion by 2050.

According to the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute’s 2020 vision study, over 170 million people in India do not have access to safe water and only 217 of the 3,119 towns and cities in the country have facilities for the treatment of wastewater. In 1955, the annual per capita water availability in India was 5,227 cubic metres — this has now declined to 2,500 cubic metres.

Impure for sure

This scarcity of drinking water has opened up a market for bottled-water. But most private companies which manufacture packaged water exploit the already-depleted groundwater resources. But not only do consumers pay much more for the bottled water than they do for what the municipality supplies, this water is often not safe for drinking purposes.

A study by the Centre for Science and Environment found that most branded packaged water contained deadly pesticide residues and was unfit for consumption.

Irrigation water in India is subsidized or even, provided free of cost. This results in misallocation and inefficient use of water. In India, farmers on an average pay only three per cent of their total production costs for water used in irrigation, while in China they pay upto 20 per cent. Most Indian states have not revised irrigation water charges for the last 20 years. Yearly water subsidies amount to as much as $ 1.2 billion. More incriminating is another study which revealed that only about 20 to 35 per cent of water from the reservoirs actually reaches the fields and that as much as 38 per cent is lost on account of seepage and evaporation.

Plug the leaks

The industrial sector too is a major consumer of water. For example, approximately 450,000 litres of water are used in the manufacturing of a small car, while 54,000 litres are used in the production processes of a tonne of water.

Worse, these manufacturing units drain their effluents in the rivers. Each cubic metre of such untreated industrial waste renders 50 to 60 cubic metres of river water unfit for consumption. When such water is used for drinking, it leads to deadly diseases like cholera, jaundice and so on. Around 20,000 children are killed every year all over the world as a result of water-borne diseases, many of which are caused by such contaminated water.

In the cities, there is around 25 per cent wastage due to leakages in the pipes. There is also the problem of cross contamination where sewage networks run alongside water pipes, leading to epidemics in many areas.

In India, as much as 40 to 60 per cent of water is lost either through breakage, seepage or other ways. Many people are forced by scarcity to tap existing water aquifers — which further depletes limited resources. Such excessive pumping in cities like Calcutta, Bangalore and Delhi has lowered groundwater levels by as much as 60 metres.

Such scarcity can be turned into abundance by applying a simple philosophy of conservation — the less you use the more you have. And it is the people, not the government, who have a big role to play in such a venture.

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