'Water' or 'H2O' is two hydrogen atoms hooked to an oxygen atom. So, what is the much-talked-about water problem? Can we not solve all the water problems with a bit of chemistry? Right, we can. However, in linking the electrons of the atoms to make water, there will be a vast and sudden burst of energy because hydrogen is highly flammable, and oxygen supports combustion.
Everything directly or indirectly is connected with Water–from any living being to agricultural produce to industrial goods. Without water, humans can survive only for days. Water constitutes 75% of body weight in infants and 55% in older people and is essential for cellular homeostasis and life. Water is a prime natural resource, and various aspects, including availability and use, merit a holistic and deep understanding.
This article aims to present the various aspects of Water primarily in the context of availability.
- It may seem that the Earth has plenty of water, however, less than 1 percent is available for human consumption. The rest is either salt water found in oceans, frozen freshwater at the polar ice caps, or not accessible for use for all practical purposes. Population and demand for freshwater resources are on the rise, but supply will always remain constant. It is true that the water cycle continuously returns water to Earth, but not always returned to the same place, or in the same quantity and quality1.
- At the current rates of progress, in 2030, 1.6 billion of the human population will lack safely managed drinking water, 2.8 billion of the human population will lack safely managed sanitation, and 1.9 billion of the human population will lack basic hand hygiene facilities.
- Over the past 300 years, over 85 per cent of the planet's wetlands have disappeared, primarily on account of land conversion and drainage, with several remaining wetland areas degraded. Since 1970, 81 percent of species dependent on inland wetlands have declined faster than those relying on other biomes, and a significant number of these species are facing extinction.
- In 2019, across the world, water stress levels remained safe at 18.6 percent. However, Southern Asia and Central Asia registered high levels of water stress at over 75 per cent, whereas Northern Africa registered a critical water stress level of over 100 per cent. Since 2015, water stress levels have increased significantly in Western Asia and Northern Africa.
- Data from 2017 and 2020 suggest only 32 countries have 90 per cent or more of their transboundary waters covered by cross-border cooperative arrangements2.
Channelisation of Water
Some regions have little to no ready access to water, and certain others are often wet or flooded. Whether channelisation of water to enable free flow of water across regions is a solution to the challenge or a threat to biodiversity, among other things, is a subject having multidimensional issues. Experts have raised varied arguments, but there is consensus that channelisation is unavoidable, but mindful channelisation is imperative.
Certain critical aspects of channelisation are summarized below:
- Loss of habitat heterogeneity is one of the most serious problems threatening the persistence of natural communities.
- Channelization, diversion through pipes (''piping''), impoundment and burial of headwater streams unavoidably affect stream systems by changing runoff patterns, fluxes to downstream segments, and by eliminating distinctive habitats.
- Structures placed along lakes and rivers to prevent erosion and channel engineering to increase navigation depths are, at least in some river systems, considered primary factors for the increase in flooding disturbance events.
- Interactions of geomorphic and hydrologic processes shape river channels through both erosional and depositional processes that occur during floods that fill the active channel and extend across river floodplains. If large floods are eliminated by dams, channels can incise and impede interaction with their floodplains.
- Changed flow has been one of the main consequences of impoundment and channelization. Impoundments designed mainly for navigation, flood control and water supply, tend to diminish natural flow variation by storing large quantities of water for controlled release at a later point in time. Conversely, dams built for the generation of power tend to focus attention on natural variation by creating high and low flow periods daily to meet electricity demands.
- Channelization, achieved by shielding the shorelines, guiding water out of side channels, and straightening the channel, also affects flow by facilitating swift movement of water downstream. Other direct results of channelization include loss of river connectivity to the floodplain, changes in water quality, and loss of aquatic habitat.
- Flow in many large river systems is affected by a combination of alterations, including impoundments, piped reaches, water diversions, and several landscape alterations in the catchment. These alterations are likely to result in complicated changes to the flow regime, and the exact nature of these changes may be difficult to predict.
It is obvious that 'channelization' is not a solution to the water problem, and the issues surrounding 'channelisation' require deeper consideration.
A Sustainable Water World
The core issue is the amount of water used for irrigation because this is and will continue to be the principal user of water in most water-short areas of developing countries. As in the case of the domestic and industrial sectors, even rapid improvements in water efficiency will not avoid water scarcity.
Apparently, fundamental 'structural' changes are also needed in the world's agricultural system – these could include:
- Slowing down the trend towards excessive meat consumption in order to slow the growth is irrigated land needed for livestock feed.
- Shifting, where possible, from irrigated crops to rainfed crops.
- Moving irrigated farmland from river basins under severe water pressure to those richer in water. This may require a shift in the type of crops that are grown and a willingness to pay for the implicit value of water in agricultural products.
Virtual water is the water not apparent in the goods, services and processes we buy and use on a daily basis. Virtual water often goes unnoticed by the end-user of goods or services, but water has been utilised throughout the value chain, which makes the creation of that good or service possible.
Most of the available works with respect to virtual water and water footprints focus on the potential economisation of water that might be achieved when water-scarce countries import water-intensive agricultural goods from countries with larger water availability. Some available estimates of probable national and global water savings that may be achieved through international trade are significant but they do not reflect actual or potential opportunities to economise on water. Current additions to the virtual water literature detail the constraint on water resources in one country by end-users of imported goods in another. Some writers suggest that, through international trade, end-users are to a certain degree accountable for water resource challenges in faraway places. Even though one aim of virtual water studies is to identify opportunities for enhancing water security, there is literally no reference to the probable repercussions of the resulting situation concerning farm households in industrialized or developing countries. It is important to consider more meticulously the inherent issue in the virtual water and water footprint perspectives, in particular when seeking direction regarding policy decisions3.
Additional Freshwater Supply from Untapped Sources
The quick-paced rise in the demand for freshwater, particularly among the population displaced in remote locations, where conventional water sources and the infrastructure required to produce potable water may be completely absent, highlights the urgent need to create additional freshwater supply from untapped alternative sources via energy-efficient solutions.
There is research which presents a hydrophilic and self-floating photothermal foam that can generate potable water from seawater and atmospheric moisture via solar-driven evaporation at its interface. Specifically, the foam shows an excellent solar-evaporation rate of 1.89 kg m–2 h–1 with a solar-to-vapour conversion efficiency of 92.7% under 1-Sun illumination. The collected water is shown to be suitable for potable use because when synthetic seawater samples (3.5 wt %) are used, the foam can cause at least 99.99% of salinity reduction. The foam can also be repeatedly used in multiple hydration–dehydration cycles, consisting of moisture absorption or water collection, followed by solar-driven evaporation; in each cycle, 1 g of the foam can harvest 250–1770 mg of water. It seems that it is the first report of a material that integrates all the desirable properties for solar evaporation, water collection, and atmospheric water harvesting. The lightweight and versatility of the foam suggest that the developed foams can be a potent solution for water efficiency, especially for off-grid situations4.
Water Quality and Climate Change
Climate change has an impact on water quality, as higher water temperatures and more frequent floods and droughts are projected to exacerbate many forms of water pollution – from sediments to pathogens and pesticides.
Climate change, population growth, and increasing water scarcity will put pressure on food supply (IPCC) as most of the freshwater used, about 70 per cent on average, is used for agriculture (it takes between 2000 and 5000 litres of water to produce a person's daily food)5.
Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus
In recent years, the concept of the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus has received attention across academic research and policy sectors. This concept encompasses the idea that the production and consumption chain of water, energy, and food resources are all intricately related. Although this relationship has always existed, the WEF Nexus was first conceptualized at the Bonn 2011 Nexus Conference. Under the Nexus approach, water, energy, and food are hyper-connected – impacts in one sector affect the performance in the other sectors – and there is a need for the integration of water, energy, and food in governance and management.
Fig. 1. Summary of the water-energy-food (WEF) Nexus6.
Article 246 of the Constitution of India lays out the federal structure of India by defining the scope of the Union Parliament's and the State Legislatures' power to make laws. The Union Parliament is empowered to make laws on subjects mentioned in the Union List, while the State Legislatures is empowered to make laws on subjects mentioned in the State List. Both the Union Parliament and the State legislature are given the joint power to make laws on subjects mentioned in the Concurrent List. Further, the Union Parliament has the power to make laws on subjects that were not mentioned in any of the three lists.
'Water' is covered under Entry 17 of the State List:
17. Water, that is to say, water supplies, irrigation and canals, drainage and embankments, water storage and water power subject to the provisions of entry 56 of List I.
56. Regulation and development of inter-State rivers and river valleys to the extent to which such regulation and development under the control of the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest.
Water being a State subject, steps for augmentation, conservation and efficient management of water resources are primarily undertaken by the respective State Governments. To supplement the efforts of the State Governments, the Central Government provides technical and financial assistance to them through various schemes and programmes.
At present, the National Water Policy – 2012 is in effect. However, to address the present challenges in the water sector, a revision of the National Water Policy has been envisaged.
The government of India in partnership with States is implementing the JalJeevan Mission (JJM) – HarGharJal which aims at providing potable water in adequate quantity of prescribed quality on a regular and long-term basis to every rural household, through tap water connection, by 2024 with an estimated outlay of Rs.3.60 lakh crore. The water sources which inter alia include groundwater, surface water (river, reservoir, lake, pond, springs, etc.) and rainwater stored in small tanks are being used as sources for drinking water supply schemes.
The government of India launched the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT) as a water-focused national urban mission in 2015 to achieve universal coverage of water supply in 500 Mission cities for five years which is extended till March 2023 for completion of projects.
- Healthy aquatic ecosystems and improved water management can lower greenhouse gas emissions and provide protection against climate hazards.7
- Wetlands such as mangroves, seagrasses, marshes, and swamps are highly effective carbon sinks that absorb and store CO2, helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions8.
- Wetlands also serve as a buffer against extreme weather events. They provide a natural shield against storm surges and absorb excess water and precipitation. Through the plants and microorganisms that they house, wetlands also provide water storage and purification9.
- Early warning systems for floods, droughts, and other water-related hazards provide a more than tenfold return on investment and can significantly reduce disaster risk: a 24-hour warning of a coming storm can cut the ensuing damage by 30 percent10.
- Water supply and sanitation systems that can withstand climate change could save the lives of more than 360,000 infants every year11.
- Climate-smart agriculture using drip irrigation and other means of using water more efficiently can help reduce demand for freshwater supplies12.
'Water' as a resource and its availability and safe management cannot be viewed in isolation.
Plans and policies would need to be integrated and implemented accordingly.
It would not be correct to state that the foregoing is not understood or implemented by law and policymakers. However, a breakdown for effecting 'call to action' must be clear:
- Sensitisation: awareness about the issues surrounding water at all levels.
- Transformational steps: Policy at the Central level and legislative efforts at the State Levels. This should include inter-state cooperation. There should be clear transformational steps identified and implemented after GAP analysis.
- Community-level actions and individual-level actions.
A comprehensive and coordinated approach, along with a sense of urgency would be helpful.
1. https://www.epa.gov/watersense/how-we-use-water Last accessed on July 29, 2023 at 14.05 hrs (IST)
2. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022
3. Alcamo, J., Henrichs, T., RÖsch, T. (2000): World Water in 2025- Global modelling and scenario analysis for the World Commission on Water for the 21st Century. Report A0002, Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel, Kurt Wolters Strasse 3, 34109 Kassel, Germany
4. ACS Appl. Mater. Interfaces 2020, 12, 9, 10307–10316, Publication Date: February 14, 2020; https://doi.org/10.1021/acsami.9b20291 Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society
5.https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/science/climate issues/water?gclid=CjwKCAjwzo2mBhAUEiwAf7wjkg94KW2mP02ncb438p9cq9gRIOhk7DnGBwjk55qzJ8SE-wVqYGjiehoCEVUQAvD_BwE Last accessed on July 29, 2023 14.21 hrs IST
6. Water-energy-food security: A Nexus perspective of the current situation in Latin America and the Caribbean Jürgen Mahlknechta, Ramon Gonzalez-Bravoa, Frank J. Loge, Energy 194(2020)116824
©2019The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open-access article under the CCBY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).
7. https://www.water-climate-coalition.org/ Last accessed on September 02, 2023
8.extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://wedocs.unep.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/35360/NatClim.pdf, Last accessed on September 02, 2023
9.extension://efaidnbmnnnibpcajpcglclefindmkaj/https://wedocs.unep.org/xmlui/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/35360/NatClim.pdf Last accessed on September 02, 2023
10.https://public.wmo.int/en/media/press-release/%E2%80%8Bearly-warning-systems-must-protect-everyone-within-five-years, Last accessed on September 02, 2023
11. https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2018-09-05/new-climate-economy-report-remarks-launch#:~:text=Climate%2Dresilient%20water%20supply%20and,vast%20benefits%20for%20public%20health; Last accessed on September 02, 2023.
12. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/five-threats-water-sustains-our-farms; Last accessed on September 02, 2023.
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