Water, Water Everywhere. But where exactly? Treasure hunt for water begins

Modi’s modest methods have mathematically simple answer

Environment

March 22, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

Water, Water Everywhere. But where exactly? Treasure hunt for water begins

Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services

With 100 trillion tonnes of rain falling on a landmass around the world each year, there is more than enough freshwater to meet humankind’s needs. It just needs to harvest nature’s bounty properly and use it wisely.

Yes, there is water everywhere. We all know that 70 pc of the Earth’s surface is covered with water. But for a glass of water, every second a woman in rural India walks an average of 173 kilometres – the distance between New Delhi and Kurukshetra– to fetch potable water in one year, making her trek 25 kilometres longer than what it was a decade back. In future, such treks by rural women are estimated to get even longer.

Billions of people around the world are continuing to suffer from poor access to water and unable to follow good practices for sanitation and hygiene, according to the report by UNICEF and the World Health Organisation.

Some 2.2 billion people around the world do not have safely managed drinking water services, 4.2 billion people do not have safely managed sanitation services and 3 billion lack basic handwashing facilities.

So? Where is that ‘everywhere’ water?

The contradiction of water being ‘everywhere and the majority of the people on the planet still struggling to fetch it, is simply explained by the fact that the 97 pc of the water on earth is contained in the oceans and is salty. It cannot be used for drinking, industry-use and agriculture. The remaining 3 pc is freshwater, most of which or 2.5 pc is locked in glaciers and polar ice-caps and hence not available. Only 0.5 pc of Earth’s water, including that contained in the atmosphere as moisture, is available for consumption by a human civilisation that has been taking it from rivers, lakes, ponds and under-ground.

However, do not look down at oceans as unhelpful storages of 500 million cubic meters of salt water, which is an estimated quantity of water stored in the oceans. Indeed, for millions of years, oceans are the ones that have been giving us fresh water. Evaporation by the Sun turns the water in oceans into moisture. That moisture is carried through the clouds which rain. The water from rain falls on the earth as freshwater or precipitation as snow. Part of that rain remains as moisture in the atmosphere and land. Thus, oceans are not only a source of fresh water but also a source of fish and salt among others. Most importantly, oceans serve as a significant sink for carbon dioxide.

Approximately 500,000 cubic kilometres of waterfalls as rain and precipitation each year; 400,000 cubic kilometres of which falls over the oceans. Rest 100,000 cubic kilometres falls over land. That is about 100 trillion tons of water on land and 400 trillion tons of water over the oceans. Poetically it can be called an affection of freshwater for the home where it comes from!

The history of the evolution of our planet says that the birth of flora and fauna started in the ocean, apart from being the only source of fresh water. The eco service given by the oceans is one of the invaluable eco-services provided by nature for which nature does not give us invoice the way we get for any services provided by the government and business.

As regards providing the fresh -potable-water-for all, India has, over the years, been shifting goalposts In 1949, two years after India got freedom, an environmental hygiene committee of the government recommended that safe drinking water should be supplied to 90 pc of the country’s population within 40 years. Sixty-five years since, by 2014, that target remained a distant dream in most of rural India. And in most of the urban area, the water remained a ‘rationed and government-controlled commodity’.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has prioritised ensuring  India’s water security, as is evident from his announcement of an allocation of INR 3.35 trillion for the Jal Jeevan Mission, one of the most socially inclusive programmes of his government’s second term.

A key focus of the Jal Jeevan (Water is life) Mission under which piped water will be supplied to almost 160 million rural and peripheral households in India by 2024, 3 years from now. When the scheme was launched in 2019, when Jal Shakti (water-power) ministry was established, only 30.1 million out of 190 million rural and peri-urban households had access to tap water.

‘Catch the Rain’ campaign is being started by the Jal Shakti ministry (Image credits: mygov.in)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi clearly laid out the importance of collective responsibility towards water conservation in February 2021. He called for a 100-day campaign to clean up water bodies and prepare them for rainwater harvesting before the monsoon of 2021. ‘Catch the Rain’ campaign is being started by the Jal Shakti ministry. The basic mantra of this campaign is to catch the rain, where it falls when it falls.

Simple math shows that with 100 trillion tonnes of rain falling on the landmass of the Earth if all of that water is caught, that would be many times more than what all of humanity needs today and even for several years later. India’s National Water Mission’s (NWM) campaign “Catch The Rain” is a signal, to the states and stake-holders to create appropriate Rain Water Harvesting Structures (RWHS) suitable to the climatic conditions and sub-soil strata before the monsoon.

Modi motivates through modest methods. While intellectuals talk about water wars, Modi proposes water peace. When others worry about vaccine nationalism, Modi implements vaccine friendship. When leaders worry about the attainment of SDGs, Modi makes SDGs simple to implement.

SDG 6 is about clean water and sanitation, SDG 14 is about life below water. Both are directly related to water. Indirectly, SDG 11 -sustainable cities and communities and SDG 12 responsible production and consumption are indirectly related to water. The message is simple, be the proud owner of your own water that falls on your roof.

A tree is satisfied to catch the water that falls on its root area. Modi’s message is to catch the water that falls on the roof area.

(Rajendra Shende, an IIT Bombay alumni,  is a former director of UNEP and currently chairman of Terre Policy Centre and advisor to Media India Group. The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Media India Group.)

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