Water is a renewable but finite resource. The hydrological cycle-
the succession of stages through which water passes from the
atmosphere to the earth and returns to the atmosphere ensures
there is enough amount of water on the earth. However, with
population growth and ever increasing demand for the same amount
of water, pressures are mounting. Also, if we continue to degrade
our environment, abusing and polluting its resources, we will
cause irremediable damage to our own health and that of the planet
on which all life depends. We must change our ways. Individuals,
institutions, governments- each have a role to play. The future is
at stake, and we must act now to increase awareness of the
importance of sustainable fresh water use, management and
The year 2003 WAS acknowledged as the ?International Year of Fresh
Water? by the United Nations General Assembly in its resolution.
So in this background let us give a thinking as to how best we can
utilize, manage and conserve the water resources around us. No
matter who we are, where we are, and what we do, we all dependent
on water. We need it every day, in so many ways-, we need it to
stay healthy, we need it for growing food, for irrigation and
industry. We need it for plants and animals, for changing colors
and seasons. However, despite the importance of water in our lives
and well-being, we are increasingly disrespectful of them. We
pollute, it forgetting how essential it is to our very survival.
2003 WAS a year of opportunity. It is was a year for us to focus
our attention on protecting and respecting our water resources, as
individuals, communities, countries, and as a global family of
concerned citizens. 2003 is a year for action and reflection. So
let us make a difference by protecting our fresh water resources
and ensure our future and planet?s long-term prospects.
A major fresh water crises has unfolded India. The crisis is the
lack of access to safe water supply to millions of people as a
result of inadequate water management and environmental
degradation. This crisis is slowly undermining the economic and
social prosperity of the country. The fresh water crises is
already evident in many parts of India, varying in scale and
intensity at different times of the year. Many fresh water
eco-systems are degrading. The fresh water crisis is not the
result of natural factors, but has been caused by human actions.
The hot summer temperatures and the acute scarcity of water in
most parts of India lends further urgency to the situation,
signaling a need to adopt a totally different approach in managing
our natural resources in general and water in particular. Unlike
other environmental problems, end of pipe solutions can make an
enormous difference in case of water. For instance, if low cost
end of pipe water purification systems are available to the
poorest sections of the society, many of the diseases related to
polluted water would be eliminated. It is not enough to just
increase spending on the supply of safe drinking water and
sanitation facilities. Simultaneously, we need to plug the leakage
in our system, ensuring that the resources allocated for this
sector are utilized honestly and effectively. As the situation
becomes more critical, it will lead to a growing need for
innovation and original action, including a reorientation of our
science and technology programmes.
Take for instance the phenomenon of climate change, which is
likely to have a serious impact on the region as a whole and water
related problems in particular. With the Himalayan glaciers
receding so rapidly, the water flow in the northern rivers will
obviously be affected unfavorably. The increasing severity and
frequency of floods and droughts, consequent to climate change and
associate changes in precipitation patterns, would require new
approaches to water management during different periods of the
year. Sadly, the worst impacts of climate change would be suffered
by the developing countries, partly because of their poverty and
lack of physical infrastructure to counter the damage of cyclones,
storm surges and other extreme events. Worse still, these impacts
are likely to multiply with climate change such as, rise in
sea-level, which is already threatening the survival of the small
island states and could inundate the low lying areas of Bangladesh
The global community has still not done enough to mitigate the
problem of climate change. The protection and improvement of water
resources is a major issue, which affects the well-being of people
and economic development throughout the globe. In this situation,
the developed, developing and even underdeveloped nations,
urgently need to address themselves to the devastating problem of
An example of how people are disrespectful towards their natural
bodies i.e., water resources can be well understood by having a
look at Afghanistan?s current problem. Afghanistan?s environment
is so degraded by two decades of warfare that it now presents a
major barrier to the nation?s efforts at reconstruction. Combined
with three or four years of drought, the conflicts have drained
the nation?s wetlands. The drought has compounded a state of wide
spread natural resource degradation, lowered water tables, dried
up wet lands, denuded forests, eroded land and depleted world life
Water use is increasing everywhere. The world?s six billion
inhabitants are already appropriating 54 percent of all the
accessible fresh water contained in rivers, lakes and underground
aquifers. That groundwater is important for human well being is
self evident. If one excludes the fresh water which is locked up
in the form of polar ice caps and glaciers, about 97 percent of
the world?s fresh water exists underground in ground water
aquifers. For domestic supplies, groundwater often is more
important than surface waters. Where surface water is deficient or
unsuitable, groundwater is the only water source, particularly in
arid and semi-arid regions. It is estimated that almost 80 percent
of the worlds rural population depends on groundwater for safe
water supplies. Further, some 1.5 billion people depend on
underground water for their drinking water supply.
Groundwater is replenished by rainwater which soaks or infiltrates
down through the soil. When this water reaches the underground
?water table?, it begins a long, slow journey underground, moving
at rates ranging from, a few millimeters to a few meters per day.
The soil removes many impurities, while the rock through which the
water flows, perhaps for thousands of years, filters and purifies
the water even further. It then usually reappears at the Earth?s
surface free of pathogens, and pollutants. Because of this
process, groundwater is normally of excellent microbiological
quality, and usually of adequate chemical quality for both
irrigation and portable purposes.
Ground water is facing increasing pressure from growing
populations, increasing urbanization and industrialization, and
increasing demand for food security, all which require ever
increasing supplies of safe, clean, water. There are two major
consequences of these increasing water needs, including (i) excess
water withdrawal at rates that exceed ability of nature to
replenish the supplies, to the extent that it can eventually
become unfeasible, both economically and technically, to use the
groundwater as a stable water supply (?groundwater mining?), and
(ii) water quality degradation resulting from pollutants generated
from a myriad of point and non-point source.
Polluted groundwater, unfortunately, is very difficult to purify.
There are several reasons for this situation: (i) its relative
inaccessibility, (ii) its huge volume and (iii) its slow flow
rates. As a result, pollutants enter a groundwater aquifer, the
environmental damage can be severe and long lasting, partly
because of the very long time needed to flush pollutants out of
the aquifer. This factor also works to hide the fact that an
aquifer is becoming polluted, especially because the water and the
pollutants carried within it move slowly.
Groundwater pollution is insidious, in that it takes many years to
show up in water withdrawn from wells and boreholes. By that time
it may be too late to prevent serious contamination. It is also
expensive because (i) the cost of providing alternative water
supplies is high, and (ii) restoration of polluted aquifers is
difficult, if not impossible.
Primary sources of threats to groundwater quality include the
Urbanization Impacts ? including residential sanitation, solid
Industrial and mining development;
Agricultural impacts- including leaching of nutrients, and use of
Waste water use for the agricultural irrigation.
One major urban pollutant is sewage, being particularly serious in
developing countries with inadequate sanitation systems. Large
volumes of solid wastes are produced and disposed of in urban
areas, and are potentially serious groundwater pollution sources,
particularly where uncontrolled dumps ( in contrast to sanitary
land fills) are plentiful, and where industrial hazardous wastes
are disposed of at inappropriate sites located on the basis of
their proximity to the source of the waste. Chemicals can be
picked up from such sources as rainfall seeps through them.
Industry produces waste materials that can be released into the
ground or into surface water courses. Mining activities can
produce pollutants from groundwater that leaches chemicals and
It may be noted that the worst polluters often are the smaller
industries that produce paper, textiles, processing leather,
metals and other materials, and as well as repairing vehicles.
Small service industries (e.g., metal workshops, dry cleaners,
photo processors and printers also produce considerable quantities
of toxic contaminants, combined with poorly controlled disposal
If population growth is not controlled and if per capita
consumption of water resources continues to rise at current rate,
human beings could be using over 90 percent of all available fresh
water within 25 years, leaving just 10 percent for all other
Agriculture is responsible for serious groundwater pollution in
many places around the world, particularly related to the
intensive use of nitrogen rich fertilizers and of pesticides.
Agriculturally- derived groundwater pollution is generally worse
where the soil is very permeable, thereby allowing agricultural
chemicals to quickly permeate down into underlying aquifers.
Agriculture is responsible for most of the depletion of ground
water, almost 70 percent of all available fresh water is used for
agriculture. Over pumping of ground water by the world?s farmers
exceeds natural replenishment by at least 160 billion cubic meters
a year. Annual water depletion in India, China, the United States,
North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula adds up to a hefty 160
billion m3 a year, an amount equal to the total annual flow of two
To protect groundwater resources, it is clear that there is a need
(i) improved groundwater monitoring and protection,
(ii) for setting priorities for action based on assessment of
aquifer vulnerability and contaminant loading, and
(iii) for adoption of early warning monitoring strategies.
Another major area in which water resources are used is energy.
Hydropower is the most important and widely used renewable source
of energy. It represents 19 percent of the total electricity
production. There are now about 45,000 large dams in operation
worldwide which produces 16 percent of the world?s food. They also
serve for hydropower and irrigation and to regulate river flow to
prevent floods and droughts, they have had a disproportionate
impact on the environment.
According to the World Health Organization, less than 1 percent of
the world?s fresh water, or 0.007 percent of all the water on
earth is readily available for human world consumption and 2
billion people, or almost one person out of five in the world, are
without access to safe drinking water. Yet another reason not to
waste, pollute or misuse the planet?s water.
Riverine ecosystems are endangered virtually everywhere by
non-sustainable development and the overuse and misuse of limited
fresh water resources. More than half of the world?s major rivers
are either heavily polluted or drying up in their lower reaches
because of over use. According to the World Commission on Water
for the 21st century, of the world?s 500 major rivers, 250 are
seriously polluted and depleted from overuse.
Close to half of the world?s lakes are degraded from human
activities. The main threats include, over fishing, pollution,
introduced species and habitat degradation from population growth,
expansion of cities and impacts from industrial and agricultural
As good quality fresh water resources are becoming increasingly
scarce, they need to be managed carefully and in an integrated
way. Many countries have a history of managing water as a
commodity rather than as a resource. Integrated water resource
management is necessary to safeguard the sustainable use of water
resources, balance and optimize, the various uses, and cast a wide
net of supporting interventions and measures.
Integration in water resource management needs to take place at
At the national level, where national water management plans and
water agencies give water resource management a place in national
policies enabling the integration of water management with
policies in other fields.
At the regional level, where integrated water resource management
concerns main operational hydrological units: river basins, lake
catchments or aquifers. Here, the main challenge will be to
balance the interests and policies of different stake holders and
to bring water management as carried out by the different water
users and operators together under a common umbrella.
At the local level, where important gains and win-win situations
are possible, e.g. by integrating irrigation management, water
supply, ground water recharge and storm water management: or by
bringing together irrigation, drainage, and reuse management; or
by taking joint account of water quality and quantity; or by
improving the management of main water operators- such as water
supply companies, irrigation agencies and farmer groups.
Better management to reduce the demand for the water has great
potential to reduce water stress and hydropower requirements. An
improved system, management, particularly for irrigated
agriculture, has tremendous potential for reducing waste, while
increasing the efficiency of irrigation systems.
As a last word I think it would not be wrong to suggest the
National Governments to back up their commitments with appropriate
legislation and management system for sustainable use of water
resources and since the year offers a wonderful opportunity to
raise awareness about water issues, the respective national
governments should motivate people of all ages to get involved, so
that each individual may have something to contribute.
1. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2003.
3. http://www.water year 2003.org.
Authored by Pagadala Lakshmi Prasanna and can be reached at