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Benjamin Franklin once said that it is only when the well dries up do we know the worth of water. He aptly summarised the human attitude towards any gift of nature that is abundant and free of cost. We, as humans, have since times immemorial taken for granted any natural resource without thinking about the future. Now, a decade past the turn of the millennium, it has begun to dawn upon the human race that nature’s bounty isn’t limitless. There are resources in nature that are running out, faster than the turnover time required to replenish them- take petroleum for example. Man waited for the resource to almost run out before taking any proactive step to redeem the situation and look for alternate sources of energy. Are we willing to do the same with water? The saving grace in case of water as a natural resource is that it is renewable. Nature’s water cycles will continue to naturally distil water through the process of evaporation and condensation and provide us with freshwater until ecosystems remain in balance. However, this fact of nature does not justify our actions of water abuse today.
Water has been important to humans from the pre-civilization time. The first civilizations of the world were built around natural water resources; The Indus valley civilization along the river Indus, the Egyptian civilization along the river Nile and the Mesopotamian civilization between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. Historians note the immense role that water played in crystallizing such complex human societies around it. The continual source of water helped build the future of these primeval civilizations into more complex political, economic and social societies. At a later part in human history, major cities such as London, New York and Tokyo were able to expand trade and commerce attributed to easy access to water. On the other hand, in the desert regions of Northern Africa and the Middle East, the rate limiting factor in the region’s development has been ascribed to lake of clean drinking water.
In history as today, water has been a strategic resource- a factor over which a number of wars of have been fought, a number of health issues been blamed and the future of biodiversity been shouldered. Apart from the basic need for drinking, water is essential in a number of other areas. The backbone of developing countries is agriculture run successfully on a complex system of irrigation. In India in particular the role of agriculture is undeniable for the economic growth and development. In absence of water fit for agriculture, the ratio of supply to demand in the country will plummet, leading to a drastic drop in the GDP and development status of the country. Industries run on extensive cooling and heating systems that are heavily dependent on water. At a micro scale, every household requires adequate supply of safe water to wash, bathe and cook. It is of primary concern then that humans learn to conserve water and respect its importance in our life.
We waste great amounts of water daily. We leave the tap running, we flush at full throttle, and we forget to recycle water. Waste water that runs down our drains enters sewers that carry it to inefficient sewage control plants that discharge unclean water into rivers. Finally, all our sewage is carried down to the oceans where it will accumulate for years to come and build toxic molecules in time. At the rate at which we use water today, it has been predicted that the usable water on the earth will be halved by 2025 and drop to 20% by the year 2050. If we can be conscious today about water management and utilization, we can save the future of the world from an acute water crisis. Even today there are omens of future water paucity. The water tables have been reported to be at an all time low and climate change and global warming have led to mammoth natural disasters.
This poses us with the challenge to take steps to revert this gargantuan crisis plaguing the human civilization. The WHO has a program set in place for “Household Water Treatment and Safe Storage” that allows each household to sanitise drinking water and recycle used water for multiple purposes. This technique promises both health and financial development of families. In India, water catchment programs have been initialised to collect monsoon water and help rejuvenate ground water levels. Watershed management programs and local initiatives need to be effectively applied to ensure proper distribution and management of water resources. On a personal front, it is necessary to be conscious of our role in wastage of earth’s gift. Being aware of a problem is half the battle won. The rest of the battle can be won by stringent water management strategies and proper sanitation and distribution systems.