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Awareness of Water Quality

By: Dr Nachiketa Das
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(Dr Nachiketa Das is Special Associate Professor, Department of Earth and Planetary Systems Science, Hiroshima University; And Director, School of Kaya Yoga, www.kayayoga.net )

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Water is the prime limiting factor for the sustenance, growth and development of human civilisation. From a human perspective, the planet earth has no dearth of land, but has a serious shortage of fresh-water that makes large areas of the earth uninhabitable. This precious natural resource and its quality must be managed carefully, simply for the very survival of our human species. Fresh-water for human consumption is obtained from rivers or lakes, and from the ground below.

Contamination of fresh-waters

Fresh-water, be it on the surface or underground, is being contaminated, save for a very few exceptions, everywhere in the world. Orissa is no exception. In a state like Orissa where rainfall is seasonal, and restricted only to a few months in the year, surface water is not available everywhere. The townships and the human settlements that are fortunate to be located by the rivers of the state, show a callous disdain for the life giving waters. Release of untreated raw sewage and industrial effluents into these waters is routine, and no one shows any concern at all. Needless to say the quality of such waters is poor, but people still consume it because they have no choices. They of course, suffer consequently, from all manners of illnesses. Many lives are lost every year due to diseases, which are completely preventable.

People in many parts of Orissa draw their supply of water from the ground below. Ground-waters from the right geological formations are generally clean and water-quality is invariably good. Ground-waters however, must be managed properly. As they are not an inexhaustible source of fresh-water, a balance between discharge of ground-water and recharge, must be maintained. Indiscriminate drilling for tube-wells and excessive drawing of ground-waters that is happening in Orissa is lowering the ground-water table. In the absence of substantial forest cover rainfall is not arrested, and that means the precipitation rushes straight down to the rivers and eventually to the sea, without sufficiently recharging the reservoirs of ground-water. Deforestation and consequent decline in forest cover are thus contributing to a lowering of ground-water table. Tube-wells going dry indicate this lowering.

Ground-water is not immune from contamination. Poor hygiene at tube-wells, where water is drawn, easily contaminates ground-water. Moreover, improper disposal of sewage, solid wastes, industrial effluents are all capable of contaminating ground-water. Once ground-water is contaminated, water-quality is seriously compromised.

In coastal areas of Orissa, excessive drawing of ground-waters creates yet another problem. In the absence of sufficient fresh-water to recharge the reservoirs of ground-water, and the proximity of the sea, makes sea-water seep in to fill in the vacuum created by excessive discharge. This phenomenon known as saline incursion renders ground-water unfit for human consumption.

Legislation and governments can play a role in keeping fresh-waters of Orissa clean, but a bigger role has to be played by the people of Orissa, who in the very first place must be educated to be aware of the importance of water-quality. Legislations again can play a role in maintaining a discharge recharge balance for ground-waters, but the people must understand the dangers of excessive discharge from tube-wells. People must realise that the decline in water-quality will substantially damage public health and well-being in Orissa. People of Orissa must develop a better sense of hygiene in every aspect of life, and disposal of waste, particularly into the water-ways, must be regulated.

High-quality of water in Japan

I have lived and worked in six countries, and toured many more. Now I am fortunate to be living in the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Hiroshima, because of its geography and climate, is endowed with an abundance of fresh-water. Moreover, excellent management practices for water use have ensured its high quality. The cleanliness and hygienic habits of the Japanese, that are truly exemplary, have ensured that water-quality of Hiroshima remains excellent. Consequently there are many industries here, small, medium and large scale, ranging from food processing to mineral water bottling to breweries that are dependent on high-quality fresh-water. Hiroshima also hosts major industrial behemoths like SHARP and MAZDA, who are significant users of high-quality water.

Japan is generally seen as a country of high-technology, and a major manufacturer of automobiles, machinery, robots, scientific instruments, and ship-building etc. This image of Japan is correct, but we do not realise that Japan is also a clean and tidy nation that has an abundant supply of very high-quality water. Over 70% of the total land area of this highly industrialised developed nation is under forest-cover, which plays a significant role in arresting rainfall and recharging ground-water reservoirs.

I have been fortunate in gaining the friendship of Professor Ken Sasaki of the Department of Bio-Recycling of Hiroshima Kokusai Gakuin University of Hiroshima. Professor Sasaki has spent a life-time conducting research into, and teaching water-quality. This warm affable gentleman with a good sense of humour is a celebrity in Hiroshima. He has written many articles for the Japanese language newspapers, has appeared in television, and has published three books discussing water-quality. This is in addition to over a 150 scientific articles he has published in journals, in the fields of water-quality, water-tasting, bio-technology, waste-water treatment, bio-recycling, alternate-fuels etc.

Let us appreciate water-quality and endeavour its preservation in Orissa, like the Japanese do. Orissa does not have a high-profile scientist or a technocrat dedicated to promoting an awareness of water-quality. I hope this article motivates someone to champion the cause of water-quality.

Dr Nachiketa Das

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References & Notes:

(This article was first published in an online newspaper from Orissa, www.hotnhitnews.com on November 10, 2007; also featured on www.sulekha.com on June 4, 2008. The author retains the copyright.)

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