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Since 1st March, 1999
 
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Water crisis at Cherrapunji
Dr B. Bhattacharjee speaking at the seminar (Picture by Sanat K. Sinha)

How to cope with the scarcity of drinking water following a tsunami, like the one that hit the coastal areas of the Indian Ocean recently' The problem can be solved by making seawater potable. 'As seawater inundates the coastal regions, it seeps through soil and mixes with fresh water making it unfit for drinking,' said Dr B. Bhattacharjee, special advisor to the Atomic Energy Commission. 'In such a situation, seawater can be made potable removing its salinity and other possible contaminating agents.' Bhattacharjee was delivering the keynote lecture on 'Desalination and Membrane-Based Technologies for Water-stressed India' at a seminar on 'Water Purification and Management'. The seminar was organised by the Calcutta Regional Centre of the Indian Institute of Chemical Engineers and the Indian Chemical Manufacturers' Association at the H.L. Roy Building of the Jadavpur University during March 12-13.

'The key to the desalination process is membrane technology, in which a thin layer of membrane made of an organic compound is used to remove salinity and other impurities of seawater and other impurities,' said Bhattacharjee. 'Such a desalination plant set up at the General Hospital at Nagapattinum provided safe drinking water to tsunami victims admitted to this hospital.'

As far as fresh water reserves are concerned, India is precariously placed. 'Though India receives 4,000 billion cubic metres of annual rainfall, spells of drought and water scarcity plague many regions of of the country,' said Dr D.P. Misra, deputy managing director, Jacobs H and G Private Limited, in his inaugural speech. 'Many fresh water lakes have dried up, like the one at Usman Sagar in Hyderabad, where 34 of the 116 municipalities are facing a severe scarcity of drinking water.'

Population growth worsens the situation. 'By 2050, India's population will swell to 1,650 million, increasing the demand for fresh water at an annual rate of 813 billion cubic metres,' Misra warned.

Speaking on 'Rain Water Harvesting ' A New Vista for Combating Water Scarcity', Dr Tarasankar Bandyopadhyay, director, Institute of Wetland Management and Ecological Design, said, 'Studies show that 100 litres a day is roughly the per capita requirement for water. Thirty years from now one-third of the world's population will suffer from acute water shortages.'

According to Bandyopadhyay, even Cherrapunji, which receives 11,000 mm of rainfall annually, suffers from a shortages of drinking water. Rainwater harvesting can solve this problem. 'The main objective of water harvesting is to store rainwater where it falls,' said Bandyopadhyay. 'Among many techniques, creating a catchment area of 100 square metres on rooftops can harvest at least 81,840 litres of rainwater per year.' (Biplab Das)

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