V Velmani lists some shocking facts on water scarcity and tells us the importance of wasterwater management
In recent decades, ever increasing demand for water and misuse of resources have let to increase in pollution and ground water depletion. There are various factors influencing global water demand including growing population, food and energy security policies, urbanisation and economic development. According to the United Nation’s world water development report 2015, global water demand for the manufacturing industry is expected to increase by 400 per cent from 2000 to 2050. The bulk of this increase is being contributed by emerging economies and nations. Demand for water is expected to increase in all sectors of production (WWAP, 2012). By 2030, a 40 per cent global water deficit is projected under the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario (2030 WRG, 2009).
Need for safe drinking water is on the rise while natural water resources are fast depleting. According to UNESCO, 2.5 billion people depend solely on groundwater resources to satisfy their basic daily water needs. Millions of farmers rely on groundwater to sustain their livelihoods. The World Bank reported that about 60 per cent of aquifers in India will be in a serious condition in another 15 years if we keep exploiting it. According to International Water Management Institute, India will face a water scarcity due to global warming and population explosion.
This dependency on groundwater has left fresh water sources exhausted. Our disregard towards precious water resources is leading to a shortage of safe water for human consumption. A sneak peek of this scenario is witnessed every year during summer season when our communities complain of water scarcity and shortage. According to the midterm appraisal of the 11th five year plan, over 60 per cent of districts in the country are facing problems relating to shortage of ground water. Lack of planning and ignorance worldwide has added on to the trouble, as water resources which are suitable for human consumption are shirking rapidly. In the absence of concrete measure to conserve water resources, we are heading towards a crisis situation which no one is prepared for.
Quality of water is also a subject of concern, which does not receive the attention and awareness it deserves. Seventy five per cent of available water in the India do not meet the World Health Organization water quality standards because of pollution caused by rapid industrialisation, urbanisation and irrigation practices. Wastewater is disposed into natural stream of river, lake and groundwater to further contaminate these resources. According to the assessment by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), the number of polluted rivers has gone up from 121 in 2009 to 275. No appropriate waste management strategies and careless attitude towards this issue has lead to poor water quality and management. The primary pollutants responsible for altering the water quality are acidification, salinity, pathogenic organism (disease-causing micro organism), toxins from wastewater or discharge from industry or urban area and other pollutants. The World Bank estimates that the current industrial water use in India is about 13 per cent of the total freshwater withdrawal in the country and the water demand for industrial uses and energy production will grow at a rate of 4.2 per cent annually. All these trends are further diluting the quality of water as initial segregation of waste is not widely practised by Indian industries and effluent treatment methods are also not promoted in the mainstream.
With UN report quoting that the world will face 40 per cent of water shortage by 2030, the option which we are left with is treating water conservation as the highest priority. Wastewater management has become an imperative solution to avoid the impending crisis and to generate awareness about the criticality of this issue amongst the masses.
Treating wastewater for potable purposes is being regarded as an inevitable solution in the long run. It largely deals with treating water, which is no longer suitable for human use and consumption. This solution will be able to fulfill several modern day needs and should be given a strong consideration by the administration and governing authorities. Other possible options include denitrification (an ecological approach to prevent ground water from getting contaminated through conversion of nitrates in gas), ozone waste water treatment (pollutants in water are broken down by an ozone generator and ozone oxidises bacteria, molds, organic material and other pollutants in water) and septic tanks (the sewage is separated into solid and liquid components and treated separately). Promoting and adopting wastewater management locally can go a long way in dealing with the water crisis looming large over us.
There are several innovations and technological developments in the field of wastewater management to enable the process of wastewater treatment efficiently. One of the imminent technologies in wastewater treatment is the ozonator. Purified oxygen is generated from atmospheric air. This purified oxygen is passed through ozone generator where corona discharge within ozone cell converts a part of oxygen gas into ozone gas. This ozone is injected and mass transferred in to waste water by specially designed equipments to carry out three-fold oxidation reactions of the organics for COD and BOD reductions without adding chemicals. Ozone is also a very powerful oxidising agent and hence a very potent disinfectant.
At an individual level, we can contribute towards water conservation by avoiding the release of waste, especially plastic in water bodies, preventing other people from doing the same, using limited water, especially ground water, re-using the water whenever we can and by practising rain water harvesting. Rainwater harvesting and storage are effectively re-use methods as the water stored can be used for irrigation, domestic use, gardening, et al. Tamil Nadu made rainwater harvesting compulsory for every building in order to curb depleting groundwater level. Since then the groundwater has increased significantly. To beat water woes, we should be conscious to reduce wastage of water and water pollution through precautions and regular treatments.
Water pollution in India is posing a significant threat to human health. Various authorities have initiated concentrated efforts towards wastewater management in India. The Government of India has taken several steps towards this sector like setting up of the viability gap funding scheme. The Indian Government is supporting the public, private participation in the sector as a measure to mitigate water woes through efficient treatment of water effluents. Private sector investments in municipal water and wastewater projects are being encouraged under Central Government’s water policy. The scope of private and public partnership is promising as the funding allocation for waste water management is estimated to be Rs5,000 crore in the 12th five year plan (2012-2017). While the overall investment potential of the water sector is estimated to be about $130 billion by 2030, the total water and wastewater treatment market alone would be worth about $420 million, with an annual growth rate of 18 per cent.
Involving private players in the water industry not only brings in capital and finance but also reduces waste and lowers costs when supported with effective governance and transparency. Wastewater management is promising sector as the market is expected to grow CAGR of 15 per cent till 2018, in terms of industry revenues. Although the infrastructure is not adequate enough to propel this industry, the growing concern for water quality will only push for infrastructure development.
There is a need for private players to support public authorities in creating awareness and offering innovative solutions for wastewater management. This partnership is essential mostly for the reason of their shared responsibility towards the environment. Joint concrete steps by public and private players to conserve water resources would go a long way in creating a sustainable ecosystem for our future generations.
Water resources are under tremendous stress and there is an urgent need to manage them more efficiently. While efforts are being made at the government level towards this cause, there is a need for active public participation to address the concerns of depleting water resources. Responsible consumption of water resources can help us in protecting the environment and to meet current and future human demands.
(The author is senior vice president, Ikos GAIA)