The United Nations has asked global governments to focus on greener policies to ensure water security for billions. The global body has pointed yet again to a very basic problem that goes beyond economics, politics, social divisions and numerous other human constructs. It relates to something that affects 3.6 billion people currently, which is about half the global human population, according to the 2018 World Water Development Report. These people, many of whom can be found among us, live in areas where water can be scarce for at least one month in a year. In our state, we often notice this period could prolong itself to as long as three months. The UN report has also warned that the number could rise to 5.7 billion by 2050. At present, many governments, particularly those in developing countries, are not seriously considering or implementing policies for water conservation that are effective, as scarcity of water is not being felt adequately by the population that can make governments act. In the case of India, the use and misuse of water is the highest in cities. In Orissa, the common populace, although faced with acute shortage of water, yet does not understand or does not wish to take care in matters of water conservation. If seen deeply, our government engineers too, for the past seven decades, have only focused on flood control but never have policies been formulated for conserving the great amounts of fresh water that the land area of the state receives each monsoon. Orissa historically has enacted wrong policies and implemented bad schemes that are designed only to give smooth passage to vast amounts of fresh water to flow into the ocean. The need to conserve has never been given priority.
There are parts of Indian cities, particularly those areas with an agglomeration of the rich and affluent, where precious drinking water goes down the drain or is used to water lawns and gardens that add to aesthetics but do not really create healthy ecosystems that help plenish water sources. These planted areas are huge water guzzlers that offer little in return. The United Nations report has proposed solutions based on nature to better manage water. The global body has also stated that the task will require efforts in unison, governments and citizens, to accomplish. It is unlikely that such a united effort will materialise unless push comes to shove. The UN report says global water use has increased by a factor of six over the past century. It is also growing at the steady rate of 1 per cent a year. With rise in population, water consumption rate is going to rise significantly as patterns of water use change. In India the present dispensation at the Centre had made a lot of noise in its initial days about cleanliness of the Ganga and renewable energy, which have all now been drowned out by the clamour for the next general election slated for 2019. The Ganga has not become clean yet and cities are not greatly cleaner than they were earlier. In the process, lot of taxpayers’ money has been washed down the Howrah bridge. Numerous rivulets that run through even tier-II cities are nothing but drains and little is being done to change that situation. Another interesting example is the Bellandur Lake in Bangalore which keeps returning to news as fires break out on its combustible-gases rich waters. Action that is required to bring about change in the situation will not come from the political leaders or the bureaucracy alone. The Ganga does not hold any relevance to peninsular India. Rivers such as Mahanadi, Cauvery and many others may not have immense religious importance but hold the key to survival and sustenance for all kinds of life around their areas of influence. Focus on the Ganga alone has not helped the country; neither has it greatly affected the Hindi heartland. That same quantity of money, if it had been distributed and spent wisely on other rivers, may have had more immediate effect.
Now it is for people to mobilise themselves for change. Work will have to be done by each individual to ensure that water is used responsibly and also replenished. The UN report has stated that man-made water infrastructure such as reservoirs, irrigation canals and treatment plants will not be adequate to meet water requirements of populations anymore, as space will act as a constraint to their development. Nature-based solutions such as recycling of rainwater through greater soil permeation, retention and storage, water purification and the restoration of wetlands are deemed to be sustainable solutions to the problem. Unfortunately these are being applied only marginally. And even if available water can be effectively conserved and judiciously utilised, it needs purification. The other growing concern about water is that we all seem to believe that bottled water is pure. Sadly, that it is not so pure after all. A recent study spread over nine countries showed that bottled water has microplastics that are harmful to health. The unbridled increase in the use of plastics has seen to it that they are spreading into uncharted territory and polluting everything. Even the most hi-tech of purification techniques are unable to remove these pollutants from water in their entirety. Water is something that no living being can ignore. Only humans can ensure its sustainable use which, should remain among the top priorities; else we will be putting our very survival in jeopardy.