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Going down the drain

Statistics show that this year’s World Water Day couldn’t have had a more germane theme than ‘Coping with Water Scarcity’.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2007 23:55 IST

Statistics show that this year’s World Water Day couldn’t have had a more germane theme than ‘Coping with Water Scarcity’. In fact, the figures sound much more ominous this time round, with a billion plus people worldwide living in areas where water is in short supply and more than a third of the global population lacking sanitation facilities. A sadder commentary is that the situation could only worsen given the rate at which global water consumption is rising — more than twice as fast as the rate of population growth. Diminishing water supplies are clearly due to the contamination of waterways and underground water by untreated sewage and wastewater discharged by enterprises and urban drainage systems.

At this rate, the World Bank estimates that three billion people will be left literally high and dry, with no access to any safe water, by 2035. Not surprisingly, most of these people will be in developing countries like India that lack the infrastructure and support systems to deal with the impending crisis. But then this is a crisis of our own making, given that not more than basic common — and civic — sense is required to avoid the wasteful use of water in everyday life. The authorities should launch campaigns to educate citizens that adopting harsh austerity measures is just as important as schemes like rainwater harvesting. It is deplorable that every Indian uses more than three times the quantity of water than is actually required. In a country like this, even things that most urban-dwellers take for granted like flushing toilets could hinder water conservation, as the technology behind the flush toilet system is suited only to climes where water is plentiful.

It is still not too late to switch to alternative technologies like low-flush toilets, or the ventilated improved pit latrine (which is odourless and doesn’t use any water). Water conservation must also be practised more efficiently in the fields, using drip irrigation to ensure all the water gets to the crops. Even sewage water could be treated with soda to recycle it and irrigate crops like cotton while water from domestic uses could irrigate vegetable beds. The planners should also consider using technology to exploit the country’s long coastline so that saline water could be made potable. Only by taking small steps like these can we hope to make big strides in water conservation.