” Water , water everywhere nor a drop to drink”. Samuel Taylor Coleredge may not have imagined that the lines he said, on a becalmed ship surrounded by salt water, shall be relevant for all of us in modern times. Increasing world population, improving living standards, changing consumption patterns, expansion of irrigated agriculture are some of the prominent factors for the rising global demand for water.
The Earth is divisible into two distinctive parts, the land and the water. Man lives on land , where he is grouped into nations or countries, which are the result of historical and political considerations. Water covers 75% of the Earth’s surface. In the atmosphere water is present as water vapour and in the soil as underground water. Experts are of the opinion that the hydrosphere of Earth has 1.4 billion cubic kilometers of water. Of this 97% of water is in the oceans , which is unsuitable for human consumption. As such fresh water is only 3% of the total global water. Out of this 77.2% is stored as ice at the poles and glaciers and 22.4% is ground water. The remaining 0.4% fresh water is the part of lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, pools, swamps etc. Modern life style makes heavy demands on the limited available resources of fresh water. Water is needed in large amounts for drinking, washing, agriculture, livestock, industry, city sanitation, power generation, recreation, etc. For the development of an area the quantity and quality of available water is of utmost importance. Occurence of water resources depends on a number of factors like soil type, underlying rocks, vegetation cover and precipitation. Water is tapped from surface sources like rivers, lakes, etc and from sub soil reserves for consumption.
The global water has also an important role in regulating the climatic conditions of a place . The oceans act as absorbers of heat as well as the source of heat energy and are responsible for maintaining the flow of fresh water in the world. Of the total water vapour from the oceans, 90% returns to the oceans in the form of precipitation or via rivers and the remaining 10% falls on the land surface to support plant and animal life.
Population explosion is a single factor that has resulted in excessive consumption of water everywhere besides deviations from the traditional ways of using and preserving the water resources , discharge of harmful waste material into water bodies, water pollution by the use of pesticides & fertilizers that wash away from farms, industrial and human waste that is directly dumped into rivers and other water bodies without treating it in treatment plants. In addition the climatic changes such as altered weather patterns, deforestation, increased pollution, green house gases and wasteful use of water are leaving an impact, resulting in shortage of pure water allover the world, which is affecting people in many ways, including health and poverty. As per a report released by WHO and UNICEF, more than a quarter of world’s population, about 2.1 billion people, lack access to clean water. The countries with worst drinking water scenarios include Mexico, Congo, Pakistan, Bhutan, Ghana, Nepal, Cambodia. Experts are of the opinion that 21 Indian cities, including Delhi, Bengaluru, Chennai and Hyderabad shall by and by run out of ground water in the coming years, affecting 10 million people. 40% of India’s population will have no access to drinking water by 2030. Excessive use of ground water has also resulted in lowering the water table to deeper depths at many places. It is reported that ground water in India depleted at 10-25mm per year between 2002 and 2016.
Global warming is resulting in melting of polar ice caps due to overall increase in global temperature, which can have serious consequences for all organisms on the Earth. As the polar ice caps melt, sea levels rise and the oceans become less saline and according to Environmental Protection Agency(EPA), the sea level has already risen 6 to 8 inches(15-20cm) in the last ten years.
Mindless felling of trees for various purposes is taking place everywhere. It is estimated that 27000 trees are being cut to prepare toilet paper alone every day. Besides theatening the existence of many species and resulting in climatic changes, it also has other ramifications and leads to desertification at many places. Desertification is occuring in all continents except Antarctica and affects livelihood of millions of people including large proportion of the poor in drylands. As per a survey report drylands occupy 41 percent of Earth’s land area and are home to more than two billion people, a third of human population. Drylands include all terrestrial regions where water scarcity limits the production of crops, forage, wood and other ecosystem provisioning services. As such pressure is increasing on dryland ecosystems for providing services such as food, forage, fuel, building materials and water for human beings and livestock, irrigation and for sanitation. India too is not an exception. Here 25 percent of the land is supposed to be undergoing desertification while in Jammu and Kashmir, desertification is mainly confined to the Ladakh region and Kathua district, for which urgent remedial measures are required to arrest this menace.
Water scarcity involves water stress, water shortage and water crisis. Poor management of resources, lack of Govt. attention, man made waste are some of the factors which contribute to water scarcity. With water scarcity comes hunger, diseases and other health complications, poor sanitation, lack of education & ultimately poverty. Water scarcity has been listed by the World Economic Forum as one of the largest global risks in terms of potential impact over the next decade.
Deviation from use of traditional methods of using and preserving water resources, inefficient use of water for agriculture, reduction in traditional water recharging areas, sewage and waste water drainage with traditional water bodies, release of chemicals and effluents into rivers, streams and ponds have long reaching effects for aggravating the problem of water crisis.
Experts have been deliberating upon the burning issues of global environmental changes including water scarcity. Man and Biosphere (MAB) programme of UNESCO (1970), Stockholm Conference (1972), World Conference in Toronto (1989), Montreal Protocol (1987), Earth Summit at Rio-de-Janerio (1992), Kyoto
Protocol(1997) are some of the examples in this direction. Clinical measures are required to be taken to address the issue of water scarcity by a collective effort of shifting to traditional practices of water use and management. Besides generating awareness on mass scale about judicious use of water and water resources , some of the possible measures like educating to change water consumption and life styles, inventing new water conservation technologies, recycling waste water, improving irrigation and agricultural practices, appropriately pricing water, developing energy efficient desalination plants, etc. can be taken before it is too late.